Huffpost Politics

Jay Nixon Vows Change In Ferguson Police's Response

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JAY NIXON
ASSOCIATED PRESS

FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday that unspecified "operational shifts" are ahead for law enforcement in the St. Louis suburb that has been the scene of violent protests since a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

Speaking at a meeting of clergy and community members, the governor told the audience that "you all will see a different tone" in law enforcement's response to the demonstrations in the town of Ferguson.

Nixon did not elaborate on the changes ahead, but they are likely to be explained at a news conference planned for later in the day.

In his first in-person remarks about the tense standoff, President Barack Obama appealed for "peace and calm" on the streets.

"I know emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened," Obama said. "But let's remember that we're all part of one American family. We are united in common values and that includes the belief in equality under the law, respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests."

Obama, speaking from the Massachusetts island where he's on a two-week vacation, said there was no excuse for excessive force by police in the aftermath of Saturday's shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. He said he had asked the Justice Department and FBI to investigate the incident.

Police on Thursday defended the use of tear gas and smoke bombs to repel demonstrators after another night of chaos over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

St. Louis County police spokesman 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 has drawn heavy criticism from many circles. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton called 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.

At the community meeting, Sierra Smith, who lives in the neighborhood where Brown was shot, told the governor "the police have no respect at all for the community."

Nixon responded that the Bill of Rights gives the people "the right speak truth to power" and "we will work to live out those rights."

Nixon has faced increasing criticism over suggestions he has not done enough to calm tensions.

State Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal had been particularly critical of the governor, accusing him of being missing in action during the crisis. In an interview on MSNBC, she called the governor a "coward."

The police chiefs of Ferguson and St. Louis County said Wednesday that race relations were the top priority in the town. 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 armored 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.

Residents in Ferguson have complained about the police response that began soon after Brown's shooting with the use of dogs for crowd control — a tactic that for some invoked the civil rights protests from a half-century ago. The county police force took over, leading both the investigation of Brown's shooting and the subsequent attempts to keep the peace at the smaller city's request.

County Police Chief Jon Belmar said his officers have responded with "an incredible amount of restraint" as they've had rocks and bottles thrown at them, been shot at and had two dozen patrol vehicles destroyed.

The city and county are also under criticism for refusing to release the name of the officer who shot Brown, citing threats against that officer and others. The hacker group Anonymous on Thursday released a name purported to be that of the officer, but the Ferguson police chief said later that the name was incorrect.

St. Louis County police and the FBI are investigating the shooting. County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Wednesday that it could be several weeks before the investigation wraps up and authorities decide whether to charge the officer.

Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer's weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car. The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times.

Jackson said Wednesday that the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.

Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown when the shooting happened, has told a much different story. He has told media outlets that the officer ordered them out of the street, then grabbed his friend's neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.

Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.

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Associated Press writers Alan Scher Zagier and Jeff Roberson contributed to this story.

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Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier .

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USA Today's Yamiche Alcindor provides an intimate look at how Michael Brown's parents have been dealing with the loss of their son:

Phones constantly ring with reporters asking for interviews or family members offering support. Last week, as demands reached a tipping point, both parents moved into hotels to shield themselves.

In the days leading up to the funeral, Brown's mother continued to cry and spoke in whispers as she tried to explain her feelings.

"They say tomorrow is going to be the hardest day, but I think today was — just seeing my baby laying there, cold," Lesley McSpadden, 34, told USA TODAY. "It did something to my heart. It's too much. It's too much."

Read the rest at USA Today.

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New audio has surfaced that allegedly captures the moment when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9.

CNN aired the unverified recording on Monday night. Six shots can be heard, followed by a pause, then several more. A private autopsy performed on Aug. 17 at the request of Brown's family found that the 18-year-old was shot 6 times, including twice in the head.

Read the rest here.

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USA Today reporter, Yamiche Alcindor shares photo of program which includes tributes to Michael Brown from his mother and father

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08/25/2014 11:57 AM EDT
Program For The Funeral
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Noteworthy Funeral Attendees
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Waiting For Brown's Family
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Police Captain Ron Johnson Arrives
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08/25/2014 10:45 AM EDT
Mo. Sen. To Attend Funeral
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08/25/2014 10:37 AM EDT
Casket In Place

MSNBC reports:

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08/25/2014 10:35 AM EDT
Funeral Security
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Brown's Father Asks For Peace
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MSNBC reports:

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08/25/2014 10:26 AM EDT
Hands Up
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Sanctuary Filling Fast For Funeral

CNN reports:

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Missouri congressman Lacy Clay (D) said on Thursday that he had "serious concerns" about the prosecutor in charge of Michael Brown's case.

"I also have serious concerns about the local prosecutors, about their ability to fairly prosecute this case in the interests of justice. To deliver justice to this community, or to Michael Brown's family. And I say that because we have a track record," Clay told CNN.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has come under heavy scrutiny in the days following Brown's death. Critics say that McCulloch's ties to law enforcement will cloud his judgement and have called on Governor Jay Nixon (D) to appoint a special prosecutor instead. A petition against him has received over 70,000 signatures.

McCulloch's father was a police officer killed in the line of duty.

For his part, McCulloch has promised that his investigation will be fair and thorough. In a statement, he said:

I have no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community. Additionally, there is no basis in the law to do so. I have faithfully and fairly carried out those responsibilities and duties for more than two decades and will continue to do so for at least the next four years.

Nixon has also repeatedly insisted that he won't take McCulloch off the case.

Alana Horowitz

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From HuffPost's Dave Jamieson:

Like the rest of the St. Louis community, including their own teachers, Gateway students had emotional discussions about being black in America, about mistrust of the police, about peaceful demonstration and violent protest. They were asked to write down what they were feeling about Ferguson, with the assurance that no sentiments were out of bounds.

Click here to read excerpts from the responses penned by a group of 7th and 8th graders at the school.

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Washington Post reports that Darren Wilson was injured following a scuffle with Michael Brown before he shot and killed him.

A family friend told WaPo that Wilson's eye bone was fractured. Fox News reported similar information earlier this week, citing a police source.

Another source told CNN that these reports are false.

Last week, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told reporters that Wilson was taken to the hospital following the incident, but did not say for what.

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HuffPost's Arthur Delaney reports:

When Attorney General Eric Holder went to Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, he assured local residents the U.S. Justice Department will swiftly investigate the police killing of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9.

In meetings with locals, Holder emphasized how his own past experiences will inform his work overseeing the Justice Department's investigation of Michael Brown's killing. He told students at a community college there that police searched his car when he'd been stopped for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike.

"I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me," Holder said. "The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the attorney general of the United States."

But Holder's critics point out that this is the same man who was woefully soft on bad cops when he served as Washington, D.C.'s top prosecutor in the mid-1990s.

"Relying on Holder to take action is like sending a guy with a cup of water to put out a wildfire," said Gregory Lattimer, an attorney who has represented family members of people killed by D.C. police, including DeOnte Rawlings, a 14-year-old boy shot in the back of the head by an off-duty officer in 1997.

"[Holder] was part of the problem in D.C., not the solution," Lattimer said. "He says all the right things and then he goes out and defends the status quo."

Read more here.

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