WASHINGTON -- Ferguson Police Department officials are set to meet as soon as Thursday with the mother of Michael Brown, the unarmed African American teenager who was shot to death by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb on Aug. 9.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference Wednesday, telling reporters that he is working with the NAACP and the Department of Justice to set up the meeting.
Since Brown was killed, there have been protests around the city from members of the city's African American community who believe that the shooting was unjustified. The chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, which has been called in to investigate the incident, has claimed that Brown was the aggressor in the confrontation and physically assaulted the officer. Brown's friend Dorian Johnson, who witnessed the shooting, has disputed that account.
The shooting, the protests and the ensuing police response have also exposed latent racial tensions in the city, which is composed mostly of African American residents but governed overwhelmingly by white public officials. Black residents are also disproportionately pulled over in traffic stops by the Ferguson Police Department, which has just three black commissioned officers out of a total of 53.
Jackson said Wednesday it's been a "struggle" to diversify the police force, but he's been trying to do so during his tenure as chief.
The police force's response to the protests -- and the ensuing looting and vandalism -- has sparked anger, with videos showing an officer calling protesters "fucking animals" and firing tear gas at people standing in their own backyards.
Jackson acknowledged the problems during Wednesday's press conference. "Race relations is a top priority right now, and as I said, I'm working with the Department of Justice to improve it," he said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the shooting deserves a full review, and the Justice Department has already dispatched its Community Relations Service to the scene to try to calm the racial tension, according to the Associated Press.
"We have always had real good relations with all of the neighborhood associations," Jackson added. "Apparently, there's been this undertow that now has bubbled to the surface, and it's our first priority to address it, to fix what's wrong."
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