News24

Police defend use of tear gas, smoke at protests

2014-08-14 20:38

Ferguson - Police on Thursday defended the use of tear gas and smoke bombs to repel protesters after another night of chaos in a St Louis suburb following the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

St Louis County police spokesperson Brian Schellman said officers on Wednesday night tossed tear gas to disperse a large crowd of protesters after some threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at officers. More than 10 people were arrested in Ferguson.

"In talking to these guys, it is scary," Schellman said of officers on the front lines of the protest. "They hear gunshots going off, and they don't know where they're coming from."

But the police response is drawing criticism from many circles. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton called on Thursday for the Justice Department to monitor Ferguson and the way police are handling the crisis.

"Even if we disagree, this climate is not good for anyone and is dangerous for everyone," Sharpton said in a statement.

The police chiefs of Ferguson and St Louis County said on Wednesday that race relations were the top priority in the town, where a white police officer fatally shot the black teen.

Authorities have vowed to reach across the racial, economic and generational divide in a community in search of answers. A meeting was scheduled for Thursday between civil rights leaders and police.

Officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with protesters, who chant, "Hands up, don't shoot." Protesters faced heavily armed police who at times trained weapons on them from armoured trucks.

Two reporters said they were detained by police for not clearing out quickly enough from a McDonald's where they were working, near the protests but away from the more volatile areas. The two, who work for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, were released without any charges. Both say they were assaulted but not seriously hurt.

Among those arrested was St Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been chronicling the protests on social media.

"I think the heavy-handed approach by police is escalating the situation and more people are going to get hurt if this keeps up," French told KMOX Radio.

AP
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