Tensions ease following 'racist' police shooting

Published 15 August 2014  |  

Robert Cohen/AP/Press Association Images
A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers trying to break up a group of bystanders Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 in West Florissant, Mo.

A peaceful atmosphere has descended upon Ferguson, Missouri, after days of violence sparked by a fatal shooting.

Following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, on Saturday, riots broke out across the city.

Brown, an African-American student who graduated from high school earlier this month, was fatally shot by a police officer while apparently walking unarmed from a convenience store to his grandmother's apartment around noon.

Witness reports vary – local police chiefs say that Brown was involved in a struggle with the officer, while an eyewitness has insisted that the teenager had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times.

It has prompted allegations of racism among the town's police force, whose 53-strong team includes 50 white officers, despite two-thirds of the town's population being black.

Brown's cousin, Eric Davis, told the BBC: "The police situation has always been one of distrust and not good for African-Americans."

Four nights of heavy violence followed the tragic incident after a vigil descended into chaos. Riot police have used tear gas against demonstrators who have taken to looting and arson, and the police have been heavily criticised for their aggressive approach.

Brown's father urged those involved to end the violence: "I need all of us to come together and do this right, the right way, so we can get something done about this," he said during a press conference.

President Barack Obama, who has said there is no need for police to use "excessive force", said in a statement: "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."

The latest reports suggest that the violence has now subsided.

The BBC's Alleem Macbool reports that "the transformation over the past 24 hours has been extraordinary... Overnight the police presence was minimal. Black officers took the lead and were greeted with handshakes by people who poured onto the streets, now without fear of intimidation."

The drastic change has been brought about by the announcement of a new law enforcement approach in Ferguson. Captain Ronald Johnson, an African-American born and raised in the area, has been appointed as the new head of security for the area.

According to the Huffington Post, Johnson declared: "We all want justice. We all want answers," as he shook hands and took photos with protestors.

"We feel like somebody heard us," one local reportedly said.

Another told the BBC: "All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas. This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."

President Obama has pledged a full investigation into Brown's death.

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