One Step Back

08.15.14

After a Night of Relative Calm, Have the Ferguson Police Made Things Worse Again?

Ferguson, Mo., has returned to a state of wary unease after local cops both name the officer who shot Michael Brown to death and say Brown was a criminal.

FERGUSON, Mo. — After nearly a week of unrest, the anger local police hoped would abate with the release of the name of police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown to death on Sunday remained.

Ferguson police officials on Friday released the name of the officer—Darren Wilson—who allegedly shot Brown to death in a disputed altercation, which has sparked almost a week’s worth of riots and disturbance in this St. Louis suburb and laid bare fault lines of race, police power and the worth of the lives of young black men in the United States.

But it was a matter of one step forward and two steps back. After the police released Wilson’s name, they also released photos they said showed Brown had robbed a nearby convenience store of a pack of cigars before Wilson stopped and ultimately killed him.

This post-mortum attempt to paint Brown as a suspect angered the mostly black community of Ferguson. It was further exacerbated when Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson knew nothing of the alleged robbery.

That puts the community and police back at square one, with the original story of Brown being stopped for jaywalking returning to the center of the controversy. That could result in an increased amount of anger on the part of protesters who, as they have for the last six days, gathered Friday night in front of the QuikTrip gas station destroyed in Sunday night’s looting to voice their dissent.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Patrol, tapped by Gov. Jay Nixon to take over security operations, said the plan for Friday was the same as Thursday: let the protesters do their thing.

“We’re going to have a good time tonight,” Johnson told CNN’s Don Lemon. The crowd around the pair cheered at Johnson’s statement.

Also on Friday, Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the family that owns Ferguson Market and Liquor, the site of Brown’s alleged robbery, confirmed that theirs was the convenience store where police say Brown committed the robbery. The St. Louis County Police Department, the same organization relieved of its duties by Nixon after a national uproar following clashes with protesters Wednesday night, collected surveillance footage from the store Friday afternoon. The move was officially an execution of a search warrant filed Friday. The store will remain closed, an employee there said. More than a dozen police cars were in the parking lot as the crowd grew into the hundreds by 6 p.m.

Dennis Banks,  a Chicago comedian who works under the pseudonym Felonious Munk and who had come to take part in the protests, said the release of surveillance photos depicting a man police said was Brown accosting a store employee during the alleged robbery was unnecessary and did more harm than good.

“Is this something they’re doing pre-trial to taint a jury?” Banks speculated. “While that might work on a jury, it’s not working for the people out here. From last night’s almost festive mood it has shifted to a lot of angst and a lot of anger.”

Earlier in the day, a small group of protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” in the parking lot of the QuikTrip gas station.

“It couldn’t be armed robbery because he didn’t have no gun. Where’s the weapon?” said James Sias. “We going to have to wait for the Justice Department now.”

Rumors have been circulating all week that Brown had stolen a pack of cigars from a convenience store not far from the Canfield Green Apartments where he lived. Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, has repeatedly said the pair were stopped for jaywalking. The only thing that both sides agree on is that an altercation ensued, and Brown was shot multiple times. The number of bullet wounds is a matter of contention here. On the streets of Ferguson residents say Brown was shot as many as 10 times.

“From last night’s almost festive mood it has shifted to a lot of angst and a lot of anger.”

Still, Johnson had calmed things as of Thursday night. The hectic but peaceful protesters then seemed determined to take advantage of what Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and President Barack Obama said earlier in separate press statements. Namely, that the people’s right to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, shall not be met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“This is currently my community and my home,” Johnson said at a press conference earlier in the day on Thursday, shortly after being named to take over security in the area. “We need to break the cycle of violence … and build trust.”

But it wasn’t trust and understanding residents wanted to talk about on Friday morning. Instead, they discussed the new details in dense clumps, some especially incensed by the surveillance photos of Brown in the convenience store in a press packet handed out to members of the media.

“Where are the pictures that show the commission of the crime?” said a woman who only identified herself as Ms. Jourdan. “What is this showing to the public and to the media? Why didn’t that packet include the picture of him laying down in the street in his own blood?”

Perry Jackson scoffed at the idea Brown stole anything, and said the young man’s life was worth far more than the cheap cigars many have speculated were the item he may have taken.

A 45-year-old Ferguson resident, Jackson said he knows at least one thing that will happen in the coming weeks.

“You know they’re going to come out and say he had marijuana in his system,” Jackson said. “Just like they did with Trayvon Martin.”

Jackson had another prediction: protests will continue tonight.

“I’m sure what they’re going to do is, they’re going to get out here early and get out in front of this,” Jackson said of police. “But it’s definitely going to be crowded. Tonight’s the night.”