Hundreds in peaceful protest in Missouri 'war zone'
By Peter Stebbings, AFP
August 16, 2014, 12:02 am TWN
WASHINGTON--Hundreds of people demonstrated peacefully Thursday in a Missouri town rocked by days of protests over the fatal shooting of a black teenager, hours after state police were ordered to replace local forces.
Police shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, triggering protests and then a police crackdown in which authorities fired tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested reporters, sparking complaints led by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Brown's death and the subsequent action by a mainly white police force in a majority black town led to allegations of racism and stirred comparisons with the February 2012 fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida by a member of a civilian neighborhood security patrol.
State Governor Jay Nixon said the decision to draft in the Missouri Highway Patrol had been taken after Ferguson was left looking "like a war zone" after four days of rioting — and there was an altogether different atmosphere on the streets after the governor's move.
A local African-American officer, Captain Ron Johnson, took charge and was at the peaceful march, hugging and shaking hands with demonstrators, reporters at the scene said, a signal of the marked change in approach from police.
"We're all in this together ... we're not in this for fear, to intimidate," Johnson said, according to a Washington Post reporter in Ferguson.
In New York, hundreds of people protested against police brutality.
Earlier in the day, Obama called for "peace and calm," adding authorities had a responsibility to be "open and transparent."
"Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson," Obama said. "Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done."
He said there was "no excuse" for both those engaged in anti-police riots and for police who used "excessive force" against peaceful protesters.
The mostly young and African-American protesters were also shouting slogans against last month's death of a black father after a New York policeman put him in an apparent chokehold.
"Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Justice," some signs read.
The county police response to daily, and nightly, protests since the shooting had been aggressive, with rifle-toting police in military-style fatigues and body armor deployed to crush dissent.
"Lately, it looks like a war zone and that is not acceptable," Nixon said.
Johnson said police would show respect as they try to restore calm.