FERGUSON, Mo. – As darkness fell Thursday night, the few blocks of this St. Louis suburb that became the scene of nightly, often violent protests was calm as public officials milled about, assuring residents parallel investigations would reveal the circumstances of the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.
It appeared many of the public figures were bracing the community for the possibility that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charged with murder as evidence continued to mount that he was attacked and severely beaten by Brown only minutes after the teen robbed a convenience store Aug. 9.
A St. Louis County Police Department officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told WND that department reports confirmed Wilson suffered a broken eye socket in a struggle with Brown before the shooting.
“For Michael Brown to fight the police officer and try to take his gun away and then to say, ‘Don’t shoot me,’ that’s resisting arrest, and it’s a felony,” he said. “All you have to do is touch the officer’s gun and you’ve committed a felony.”
As darkness settled in, the crowd grew to about one or two thousand people, but the atmosphere remained relaxed as State Highway Patrol troopers restricted motor traffic on West Florissant and kept pedestrians off the road. But police allowed access to the sidewalks, and a few peaceful protesters marched and chanted.
On the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive, near the site of the shooting, CNN’s Anderson Cooper conducted a live television broadcast from a curbside studio.
Seeking ‘a just conclusion’
WND interviewed several prominent public figures walking about the crowd Thursday evening. They largely were there to deliver a calming message, not that a black teen was an innocent victim of a white police officer, but that the grand jury and Eric Holder’s Department of Justice will uncover the truth of what happened in the shooting incident two weeks ago.
“My agenda is justice and peace,” said Bishop Edwin C. Bass, president of COGIC Urban Initiative and pastor of the Empowered Church in St. Louis.
Speaking to WND at the corner of West Florissant and Canfield, he was careful to avoid any appearance of having prejudged the results of law enforcement investigations.
“I would like to see this come to a just conclusion, whatever that is,” he said. “All the facts have to come out. I believe that when we come out of this, the community will be stronger, that there will be more conversation and less racial division, more action in concert with the police.”
Crossing West Florissant at Canfield, St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley spoke to WND.
“We are going to find the truth – now it’s depending on what we do with the truth – but we are going to get the truth,” he said.
He expressed doubt that Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor who has convened the grand jury in the Michael Brown case, could be unbiased. His concern is shared by many in the St. Louis-area African-American community who believe McCullough, a Democrat, will be influenced by his many family ties to local police and the fact that at age 12, his father was killed by a black man.
He said, however, he was confident the truth would come out because Attorney General Eric Holder, who visited Ferguson Wednesday, is personally involved in a parallel investigation.
“I’m encouraged by the federal government coming in and looking at the civil rights aspect of the incident,” he continued.
Dooley said the federal government “has done this before and they have credibility whereas Mr. McCullough doesn’t.”
“Mr. McCullough has done nothing to reach out to the African-American community,” he asserted.
Holder, meanwhile, he said, “came down here and he talked with the people.”
“Bob McCullough has been nowhere near this place,” Dooley said. “He has said things about extenuating circumstances that are not appropriate.
“It’s not so about being pro-police, McCullough is just anti-African-American,” he continued. “How do you justify a man being shot six times and unarmed? You can’t defend that.”
Dooley reiterated: “I really am encouraged by Eric Holder coming to town. His team will investigate the criminal charges and the civil rights abuses. I think that’s going to give us what we need to have.”
Last week, McCulloch criticized Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for taking away control of the Ferguson riot scene from St. Louis County Police and handing it over to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Then, Nixon issued a statement Wednesday widely interpreted as a prejudgment of Wilson, declaring “a vigorous prosecution must now be pursued,” even though the officer has not been charged.
‘It’s about trust’
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, the officer selected by Nixon to coordinate law enforcement agencies in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, emphasized the public should not presume Wilson is guilty.
“We will find out the truth of what happened here,” Johnson promised repeatedly, carefully avoiding several attempts by questioners both from the press and the public to portray Brown as an innocent victim or characterize Wilson as a racist police officer.
A black resident of Ferguson asked Johnson if blacks should be fearful every time they see a policeman.
“But the first time you see a policeman can’t be when something is wrong, because with a policeman or a fireman, it’s about trust,” he said.
“I can tell you today that there’s a man who sits in the White House who sent his top law enforcement officer to this state,” Johnson said, referring to Holder’s visit. “So your voices are being heard.”
Walking along both sides of West Florissant for nearly an hour, Johnson stopped to be photographed by numerous local residents, taking time to engage in extensive discussions.
1 incident, 3 investigations
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III also spent well over an hour talking with the press and public along West Florissant.
“I hope to heavens we get the truth about what happened here,” he said. “That’s the point of the justice system.”
He noted that both St. Louis County and the Justice Department are investigating.
“They’re going to be looking at all the same evidence,” he said. ‘We’ve had different autopsies, but I hope the information is not contradictory, but that all the law enforcement agencies get on the same page, so we can all be confident in the results.”
Knowles emphasized in response to several questions his determination to make the community aware of the grand jury results as soon as possible.
“Once the law enforcement information is ready and available, and it’s proper to release it, I will absolutely make sure to the best of my ability that the information gets out to the public,” he said.
The mayor emphasized the importance of rebuilding businesses damaged by the rioting and looting.
“The residents who live in this neighborhood used to depend on these businesses, even for their groceries,” he said. “Many people here don’t have good transportation, so they walk to these businesses. So the first thing we have to do is make these businesses whole. We have to make sure these businesses get back going so they don’t leave here.”
Knowles emphasized his determination to build upon the positive and peaceful aspects of the Ferguson community.
“I rushed here from a group of three or four hundred Ferguson residents all gathered together to see how they could improve this city’s image,” he said.
“People know there are some who feel disaffected, but the vast majority of our community has pulled together,” he said. “We’re going to be reaching out to make sure those who feel disaffected feel included in what we’re doing. That’s what we are doing right now, going forward.”
Accompanying Mayor Knowles was Devin James Sr., the CEO of the Devin James Group, a St. Louis-based public relations firm hired by the city of Ferguson to restore peace in the community. The firm has been conducting various outreach activities, including an attempt to diversify city services by hiring additional minority employees.
“A lot of people have the perception that Ferguson is not together, so we’re just trying to show the peaceful side of this community,” James said.
Unscripted: Resident’s sympathies with Brown
Among the African-American residents of Ferguson that WND interviewed Thursday was Isaac Daniels, a middle-aged man not participating in any demonstration activity. He was walking home carrying a plastic bag of items purchased at a local store.
“I live in a complex not far from where Michael Brown was shot down,” he said. “When I heard the commotion, I came down, but I didn’t see the actual confrontation. People were shouting, ‘They shot him.’ But I didn’t see for myself what happened with the shooting.”
Making clear his sympathies were with Brown, Daniels was a contrast to the carefully worded statements of public figures walking the streets Thursday night.
“I personally agree with the protests, because I know myself many men who have been shot down by the police, whether they were the St. Louis County police or the municipal police,” he said.
Still, Daniels was aware of information indicating Brown may have been an assailant.
“I wasn’t there, and I don’t know exactly what happened with the struggle and all that, but even so, however it went, when Michael Brown put his hands in the air and surrendered, that should have been the end of it right there,” he emphasized.
“I believe we will get the truth of what happened, eventually,” Daniels said.
He urged witnesses of the shooting to come forward and speak out, if they haven’t done so already.
“If I had seen it, I would have come forward as a witness,” he said. ‘I truly feel like the police officer should be held accountable for his actions simply for the fact that once the police officer hit him a couple times and saw Michael Brown’s body jolt, he should have stopped firing.
“To continue firing, and it sounds like he may have emptied the clip, is horrendous,” he said.
Daniels said he had been “harassed” by the Ferguson Police Department a couple of different times.
“I don’t have any warrants or arrests, but it’s just that my time was taken up for no purposes,” he said.
He ended the interview by detailing his personal concern.
“Unless you have a call that a person who’s suspicious has exactly what I have on, then I don’t feel I should be stopped by the police,” he said. “If I look suspicious, OK, that’s fine. But unless the police get a call that somebody who looks like me or is dressed just like me within the last couple of minutes coming from my direction, there’s no reason to stop me. If I’m not bothering anybody, I should just be able to keep walking.”