Thursday 12 December 2019

Shooting town awaits charges ruling

A high school graduation photo of Michael Brown stands at a memorial near the spot where he was shot dead by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri (AP)
A high school graduation photo of Michael Brown stands at a memorial near the spot where he was shot dead by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri (AP)

A grand jury considering whether to charge a white police officer over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager is meeting behind a ring of steel as tensions rise in a Missouri city.

Barricades have been erected around the around the Buzz Westfall Justice Centre in Clayton, where the St Louis County grand jury has been meeting, amid fears of fresh riots in Ferguson and elsewhere.

Many speculated that the grand jury's decision would be announced today, but that became increasingly unlikely as the hours passed, although preparations showed an increased urgency.

Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, killed Michael Brown, 18, during a violent confrontation on August 9. The killing led to protests in the predominantly-black city, some of which turned violent and attracted world attention.

Mr Brown's death reignited a debate over how police treat young black men and spotlighted racial tensions simmering in Ferguson and other US communities 40 years after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Two thirds of Ferguson's residents are black but the police force is almost entirely white.

Police arrested three protesters on Friday night, the third straight night of unrest in Ferguson.

Officer Wilson, 28, reportedly told the grand jury that he feared for his life as 6ft 4in Mr Brown, who weighed more than 21 stone, came at him. Some witnesses said Mr Brown was trying to surrender and had his hands up.

Downtown STL, a St Louis civic group that promotes city centre businesses, told members in an email yesterday that the grand jury would reconvene tomorrow to continue deliberating whether charges are warranted against Officer Wilson.

The email did not explain how the group knew the information and a spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Brown family's lawyer Ben Crump said Saturday that he had not heard a decision had been reached and prosecutors had promised to tell him when that happened.

Businesses in Ferguson and Clayton have boarded up their windows and r esidents were on edge, too.

Nurse Jamie Freeman, 38, of Ferguson, a mother of four, said she was especially concerned since her 20-year-old son lives in the neighbourhood where Mr Brown was shot.

"I just hope it stays peaceful," she said. "We all have human emotions but there's a way to do things, and violence, you can't get peace from violence."

Mr Crump said the grand jury process was weighted against those shot by police officers.

"Ninety-nine per cent of the time the police officer is not held accountable for killing a young black boy," he said. "The police officer gets all the consideration."

The FBI has sent nearly 100 additional agents to Ferguson to help authorities keep the peace, b ut things were calm yesterday.

Mr Brown's father, Michael senior, joined a church group to hand out out free turkeys to needy people in the area where his son was shot. A day earlier, a video of him was released urging peace, regardless of the grand jury decision.

PA Media

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