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Peaceful evening march in violence-shaken Ferguson

2014-08-20 10:34

Ferguson - Protesters hit the streets of the US town roiled by days of unrest over the killing of an unarmed black teen, hours after police shot dead a knife-wielding man just a few miles away.

Demonstrators waved signs and chanted slogans as they strolled up and down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri. The town, a suburb of St. Louis, has been shaken by racially-charged unrest since a white police officer shot dead Michael Brown, aged 18, 10 days ago.

Police have hurled tear gas canisters and fired rubber bullets at crowds as protests got violent after sundown. But on Tuesday, the mood was distinctly more relaxed, with police keeping a lower profile.

They did intervene when two men got into a scuffle that brought the march to a sudden but brief halt, before it resumed.

'Cowards hide in the dark'

"I want the good people to have the ability to voice their opinions," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the African-American officer tasked with restoring order in the restive town.

Mingling with citizens insisting on the right to protest, Johnson denounced what he called "criminal elements" who, after dark on Sunday and Monday, ignored police orders to disperse.

"Cowards hide in the dark, and it's time for that to stop," he told reporters.

Ferguson civic leaders had called for "night-time quiet and reconciliation" after another night of protests and violence in the majority black town.

The evening marchers were mainly black, with a good number of whites also demonstrating in the hot, humid night. Some people brought along young children, who nibbled on pizza slices distributed by volunteers.

Some handed out red roses. Many chanted: "We are/ Mike Brown" and "We are young / we are strong / we'll be marching / all night long."

'Kill me now' 

One incident that could fuel night time violence took place a short drive away in St. Louis proper, where police - criticised for aggressively responding to demonstrations - shot dead an agitated man who yelled "kill me now" as he approached police wielding a knife during an apparent convenience store robbery.

Onlookers gathered at the yellow incident tape sealing off the scene of Tuesday's shooting outside the store, some chanting the slogan of the protests: "Hands up, don't shoot."

Captain Ed Kuntz told reporters at the scene that an investigation had been launched. But, based on what he had heard, "it seems reasonable to say it was justifiable."

"Whenever there's a police shooting, tensions are always more high," he admitted, while insisting: "Right now we are focused on preserving life and protecting property."

Shot 6 times

Earlier in the day the Brown family attorney, Benjamin Crump, announced on Twitter that Michael Brown's funeral would take place on Monday. The message was retweeted nearly 300 times in less than hour, reflecting the intense interest in the shooting.

Police identified the white police officer who shot Brown in broad daylight on a residential street as Darren Wilson, aged 28.

Brown's family wants Wilson charged with murder for "executing" their son.

A grand jury is to consider the case on Wednesday, with Attorney General Eric Holder scheduled to visit the city amid an ongoing federal civil rights investigation.

Although police also fingered Brown as a robbery suspect, he was unarmed and some witnesses have said he was surrendering when he was gunned down.

A forensic pathologist retained by Brown's family said that the teen was shot at least six times - twice in the head.

Three separate autopsies of Brown's remains are taking place - by local authorities, by the family and by the Justice Department.

Federal law enforcement officials said that the military medical examiner who conducted the federal autopsy also concluded that Brown had six gunshot wounds, The Los Angeles Times reported, citing an unnamed government source.

'Gulf of mistrust'

Overnight on Monday to Tuesday in Ferguson protesters shot at police and threw rocks and fire bombs in a new spasm of violence that left six wounded and led to 31 arrests.

Police responded with tear gas to disperse the crowd of about 200, Johnson said.

US National Guard troops have been deployed to Ferguson to help control the unrest, amid criticism of the distrusted local force's handling of the protests. Even President Barack Obama said there was no excuse for local police to use "excessive force."

He urged Missouri to make only "limited" use of the National Guard, which is operating under police supervision.

AFP
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