Confrontations between police and residents of a St. Louis suburb raged into the night Sunday after the fatal weekend shooting of a teen by an officer.
Crowds gathered Sunday night for a candlelight vigil for Michael Brown, whose shooting death sparked tensions in the Missouri town of Ferguson.
The peaceful gathering turned tense as protesters hurled bottles at officers and kicked police cars parked on the streets with blue lights flashing.
Stoic police in riot gear watched as young men knelt before them, hands up in protest to symbolize surrender. Angry mobs broke into businesses and hauled out items such as clothes, tires and hair extensions.
“We will stay out here as long as you are!” protesters yelled at police.
Witnesses said Brown,18, was unarmed and had his hands in the air when a Ferguson police officer shot and killed him Saturday.
But authorities said that was not the case.
“The genesis of this was a physical confrontation,” said Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department. The local police called in his department to conduct an independent investigation.
The Ferguson police officer tried to leave his vehicle just before the shooting, but Brown pushed him back into the car, “physically assaulted” him and struggled over his weapon, according to Belmar.
Brown was eventually shot about 35 feet from the vehicle, the police chief said. He declined to provide more details, saying he didn’t want to “prejudice” the case. Ferguson Police said its cars do not have dashboard cameras.
Shell casings collected at the scene were from the officer’s weapon, Belmar said. A medical examiner will issue a ruling on how many times the teen was shot.
“It was more than just a couple,” the police chief said.
But witnesses gave a different account. They said Brown did nothing to instigate the shooting and appeared to be surrendering when he was killed. Brown was spending the summer in the neighborhood with his grandmother Desuirea Harris, she told KMOV.
“My son just turned 18 and graduated high school and he didn’t bother nobody,” his mother, Lesley McSpadden, told CNN affiliate KSDK.
Brown was supposed to start classes at Vatterott College on Monday, she said.
Antonio French, an alderman in nearby St. Louis, said the community is outraged.
“People have a lot of anger and are frustrated,” he said. “They don’t have recourse in the system, and it happens often in this country, and it has boiled over. I think people are angry and looking for a reason to let it out tonight.”
ATM hauled out of gas station
He said a local QuikTrip gas station was looted and an ATM dragged out.
“This QuikTrip is where things started yesterday with this case, based on various accounts,” French said. “Mike and his friend were accused of stealing gum from the store or some sort of cigarettes.”
Demonstrators held their hands in the air and chanted, “We are Michael Brown.” Others held signs that said, “No justice, no peace” and another that read, “Police stops should not = dead kids.”
Family retains Trayvon Martin’s lawyer
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles urged the community to stay calm and not escalate the situation.
“We don’t know what happened, and there are lots of conflicting stories,” Knowles said. “Unfortunately, there will have to be some time taken to understand what happened. Hopefully, we will get to an understanding, and justice will be served.”
The officer who shot Brown is on paid administrative leave during the investigation and will be available to talk to county homicide detectives.
He has been with the force for six years and will be required to undergo two psychological evaluations before returning to duty, Belmar said.
Attorney General Eric Holder has instructed the department’s civil rights division to monitor the developments in the case, the Justice Department said.
The FBI said it is assisting police in its investigation and will review the findings.
Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who handled Trayvon Martin’s case, will represent the family. Martin, 17, was killed in 2012 by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer, who was acquitted of murder charges.
Ferguson, which has a population of about 21,000 people, is 67% African-American.
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