[guest post by Dana]
On Saturday, Michael Brown, age 18, was killed in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson is a predominantly black city, and as Brown was also black, the city is being torn apart by rioting, looting and mass protests.
There is an ongoing investigation, but what is agreed upon is that Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer as he and a friend walked down the street. There are two different accounts of the event:
The friend, Dorian Johnson, 22, told msnbc the officer drove up to them and told them to “get the f–k on the sidewalk” and then braked in front of Brown. Johnson said the officer threatened, “I’m gonna shoot you.” He fired multiple shots, Johnson said, as Brown ran for his life, stopping at one point with his hands up in surrender and yelling, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” But the bullets hit Brown, who collapsed onto the ground. Other witnesses corroborate Johnson’s story, saying that Brown had his hands raised as the officer repeatedly fired at him.
And then there is this:
Police paint a less peaceful account of the moments leading up to the shooting. They say a fight broke out after the officer asked the two to move to the side, and say the officer’s gun went off inside the patrol car. They have not said why the officer approached the men in the first place. Police say there isn’t any security camera footage from nearby buildings or police dashcam video of the incident.
Further, the anger over the shooting has spread beyond Ferguson. NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and Rev. Al Sharpton have also become involved in protests.
There is also a demand for the police department to release the name of the police officer involved in the shooting. Due to obvious safety concerns, the Ferguson Police Dept. has opted not to release the officer’s name. (Today, the hacking group Anonymous released a name on Twitter they believed to be the police officer who shot Brown. It was not the officer involved. As a result of the group’s deplorable actions, the family of the man named are now living in fear. The group’s Twitter account was subsequently suspended.)
Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
The federal investigation will supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities. At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right. I will continue to receive regular updates on this matter in the coming days. Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
As with the Trayvon Martin shooting, President Obama weighed in:
The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time. As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed. I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.
Again today, the president addressed the matter. In part:
Of course, it’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again. And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.
There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. And here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.
I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.
Various politicians have also voiced their concerns over the situation. Particularly disturbing was last night’s “deployment of military equipment and vehicles” to combat protesters.
The president expressed in part, what one assumes most Americans can agree upon:
Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.
We’ll see what happens.