FERGUSON, Missouri — The Ferguson Police Department revealed the most pressing detail in the death of Michael Brown by releasing the name of the officer who killed the unarmed teen—Darren Wilson. But it may have undone the calming effect of yesterday by immediately naming him as a suspect in a petty robbery of a convenience store.
“A lot of the stakeholders had a big meeting conversation yesterday, and then yesterday evening,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told a St. Louis television station, “and we made the determination that today is the day.”
But following the press conference, many were enraged at Jackson’s assertion that Brown was involved in an alleged robbery, prompting the deadly altercation.
A small group of protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” in the parking lot of the QuikTrip gas station, scene of the demonstrations that have taken place since Brown’s death on Saturday.
“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.
"It couldn't be armed robbery because he didn't have no gun. Where's the weapon?"
The anger at what many perceived as the Ferguson police’s attempts at justifying the shooting by alleging Brown was involved in a robbery could shatter the fragile peace that took hold last night after Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson took over security in the area.
Last night, he did what no cop has done for the past five days: He walked through a crowd of more than 1,000 protesters and answered their questions.
“Thank you for coming out here,” one woman told Johnson as he sat in a police SUV late Thursday, taking questions from protesters.
As Thursday night’s unexpectedly civil interaction continued, a woman toweled sweat off Johnson’s head.
Johnson’s visit marked an evening in which this St. Louis suburb, which had, for since Sunday night, been a scene of wrenching violence and become a symbol of explosive rage at what residents, most of them black, saw as unrestrained police brutality following the shooting death of Brown, drew back from the brink.
The hectic but peaceful protesters Thursday night 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 had 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 fact that police included 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.”