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Nick Carey and Edward McAllister
23 Aug 2014 08:02
Security forces charge demonstrators after being hit by water bottles during a protest on Wednesday against the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (Adrees Latif, Reuters)
Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were muted for a third straight evening on Friday as the National Guard began withdrawing from the St Louis suburb racked
by racial turmoil after a white police officer shot dead an unarmed black
Hundreds of protesters marched in the hot summer night near the site of the
August 9 slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown, chanting “Hands up, don’t
shoot,” while police vehicles observed the demonstration, without
Clergy volunteers wearing bright orange T-shirts discouraged protesters who
wanted to defy police orders to keep moving, while live singing and drums
boomed out from a flat-bed truck.
At St Mark Family Church, a hub for protest organisers, activists and
residents met to pray and work on plans to improve the predominantly African
American community of 21 000 in the wake of unrest that has focused
international attention on often-troubled US race relations.
Despite a notable easing of tensions in recent days - police made only a
handful of arrests on Wednesday and Thursday - authorities braced for a
possible flare-up of civil disturbances ahead of Brown’s funeral, which is
planned for Monday.
Police in Ferguson came under sharp criticism, especially in the first
several days of demonstrations, for arresting dozens of protesters and using
heavy-handed tactics and military gear widely seen as provoking more anger and
violence by protesters.
In the latest embarrassment for local law enforcement, an officer from the St
Louis County Police Department was removed from active duty on Friday after a
video surfaced in which he boasted of being “a killer”.
Officer Dan Page, a 35-year-veteran of the police force and a US military
veteran, was relieved of patrol duties and placed in an administrative position
pending an internal investigation, a police department spokesperson said.
In the video, Page is seen addressing a St Louis chapter of the Oath
Keepers, a conservative group of former servicemen, saying, “I’m also a
killer. I’ve killed a lot, and if I need to I’ll kill a whole bunch more.
you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me.”
He also made disparaging remarks about Muslims and expressed the view that
the United States was on the verge of collapse.
St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar apologised for the comments in the
video, saying they were “bizarre”.
Two days earlier, another St Louis-area policeman, an officer from the town
of St Ann, was suspended indefinitely for pointing a semi-automatic assault
rifle at a peaceful demonstrator and yelling obscenities.
The incidents have highlighted the racial divide in Ferguson, a largely
black town where the police force and local politicians are almost all white.
Civil rights activists say Brown’s death was the culmination of years of police
unfairly targeting blacks.
The White House said it was encouraged by developments over the past few
days, and that President Barack Obama was receiving regular briefings on the
situation in Ferguson.
A grand jury, made up of three blacks and nine whites, met this week to
begin hearing evidence in the case, a process St Louis County Prosecuting
Attorney Bob McCulloch said could last into mid-October. Nine votes are needed
for an indictment.
Vanessa Spencer (46) a cafeteria manager who lives in St Louis, took part in
Friday’s protests, holding a sign reading “Keep Calm Change Coming.”
Beside her was her sister, Linda Bell (57) a cook, with a sign saying,
“Together We Stand 4 Peace 4 Mike Brown.”
“But with a grand jury that is mostly white, are we going to get
justice?” Bell asked.
Part of history
Besides activists and clergy, a contingent of US civil rights workers and
community activists from Georgia, Florida, Detroit and elsewhere have set up
shop in Ferguson and say they plan to stay for an extended period.
The patchwork of groups, including the Dream Defenders and the National
Lawyers Guild, are holding training and strategy sessions for young people and
others who want to continue to peacefully protest Brown’s death. They are
instructing teams of “legal observers” how to document complaints of
police harassment and abuse.
“This is going to be a part of history. It really is,” said Christi
Griffin (58) a black attorney from St Louis who helped organise activities at
the church meeting on Friday night before a small group of protesters left for
the street clad in protective helmets.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard deployment to help
police quell looting and vandalism that erupted during previous nights of
protests, but the troops have largely kept a low profile. Nixon on Thursday
ordered their withdrawal to begin.
Brown’s parents and supporters have been calling
for the immediate arrest of Darren Wilson (28) the police officer who shot
their son. Wilson has been placed on paid leave and has gone into seclusion. -
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