Ferguson, Mo., (Reuters) – Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in Ferguson today, trying to restore order after a week of racially charged protests and looting over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
The curfew will run midnight until 5 a.m. until further notice, said Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. Johnson was named by the governor this week to oversee security in the suburban St. Louis community that has been roiled by the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“The eyes of the world are watching. This is the test of whether a community, this community, any community, can break the cycle of fear, distrust and violence, and replace them with peace, strength and, ultimately, justice,” Nixon told a gathering at a church near Ferguson.
Some in the crowd reacted angrily to the news and several said the police officer who killed Brown must be prosecuted for murder if peace is to return to the community. There were shouts of “hands up, don’t shoot,” a phrase that has become a rallying cry in Ferguson over the last week.
But Nixon said public safety had to be protected. “We cannot have looting and crimes at night, we can’t have people fearful,” he said.
The unrest erupted after police officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed Brown shortly after noon a week ago as Brown and a friend walked down a street that runs through an apartment complex where Brown’s grandmother lives.
Tensions have been high all week but escalated on Friday evening as protesters again swarmed through a residential and retail district that has become a center of the unrest, pitting mostly black protesters against mostly white police.
On Saturday, people marching through city streets held signs that read “black lives matter,” and “Don’t shoot.”
Brown’s family and supporters have demanded for days that the officer who shot Brown be held accountable. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting for any civil rights violations, and the St. Louis County Police department is also investigating the shooting.
ROBBERY ACCOUNT FUELED PROTESTS
For days, police repeatedly refused to identify the officer involved, citing concerns for his safety. On Friday, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson gave in to community pressure and identified Wilson as the officer involved.
But at the same time, Jackson added to the community’s outrage when he announced Brown had been a suspect in the robbery of a convenience store at the time he was shot.
Jackson later told a news conference that when Wilson shot Brown, the officer did not know the teen was a suspect in the robbery. There was no connection between the shooting and the alleged robbery, Jackson said.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Brown’s family, said in a statement issued on Friday that the family was “beyond outraged” at the police attempts to “assassinate the character of their son.”
Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said he would lead a rally with Brown’s family in Ferguson on Sunday.
Other law enforcement agencies have criticized the Ferguson police department for trying to make the alleged robbery an issue connected to the shooting, and for releasing a video from inside the store that shows Brown violently shoving a store clerk before he walks out the door.
The U.S. Justice Department asked Ferguson police on Thursday not to release the video, out of a concern it would roil the community further, but on Friday it was released over the objections of federal officials, said a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity.
CONFUSION OVER KILLING
The police version of Brown’s shooting differs markedly from witness accounts, including that of the friend who was walking with Brown at the time, Dorian Johnson, 22.
In the police version, after Wilson asked Brown to move out of the road onto a sidewalk, Brown reached into the patrol car and struggled with Wilson for the officer’s service gun. Wilson, who sustained a facial injury, then shot Brown a number of times.
Johnson and at least one other witness have said the officer reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and the teenager was trying to get away from the officer when he was shot. Brown held up his hands in a sign of surrender but the officer got out of his patrol car and shot Brown several times, they said.