WASHINGTON -- Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson had few answers for reporters who wanted to know why officers dressed in full riot gear were throwing tear gas and firing rubber bullets during largely peaceful protests against the killing of Michael Brown. He also appeared to have little sympathy for individuals who were caught up in the melee, essentially saying it was their own fault for being out.
"If individuals are in a crowd that's attacking the police, they need to get out of that crowd," Jackson said during a Thursday afternoon press conference. "We can't individually go in and say, 'Excuse me sir, are you peacefully protesting? Are you throwing rocks? Are you throwing a Molotov cocktail?' It's a crowd. If the crowd is getting violent and you don't want to be violent, get out of the crowd."
The Ferguson Police Department has been under fire since one of its officers shot and killed Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, on Aug. 9. The police department has refused to release the name of the officer or give more details about the incident, and there have been nightly protests by community members who are frustrated by the lack of justice.
The police department's response to the protests has escalated racial tensions in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. The predominantly white police force has regularly come out in full riot gear and officers have not restricted their use of tear gas to instances of violence.
While there has been some looting and vandalism, the protests have largely been peaceful. Yet officers have continued to use tear gas, even firing at protesters who were standing in their own backyard.
Last night, officers used tear gas and rubber bullets on an Al Jazeera America news crew. When the journalists ran to safety, the officers appeared to take and destroy their equipment.
The Huffington Post's Christine Conetta and MSNBC's Trymaine Lee were also caught in crowds of tear gas while out covering the protests in Ferguson Wednesday night. In an interview Thursday on MSBNC, Lee took issue with Jackson's contention that officers fired tear gas in response to violence from protesters.
"I was standing just about 35 feet away from the armored vehicles when they first fired off those canisters of tear gas," Lee said. "Somebody did throw a bottle or something off one of those trucks. But I didn't hear any gunfire. I didn't see any molotov cocktails, any rocks being flung. Within 20 seconds of whatever did hit one of the police vehicles, the police said, this is no longer a peaceful protest. You must disperse immediately. Within 15 seconds, the first canister started to be fired into the crowd."