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Obama calls for calm after Missouri rioting

People raise their hands as police wearing riot gear move toward their position in an attempt to get them to disperse in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where black teenager Michael Brown was killed on Saturday.
Police on streets of Ferguson after days of unrest following killing of unarmed black teenager

FERGUSON — US President Barack Obama called the police shooting death of an unarmed black teenager a tragedy yesterday, as fears of further racial tension rose in the United States after two nights of violent protests, looting and arrests in a St Louis suburb.

Obama offered his “deepest condolences” to the family of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was shot to death by police on Saturday in Ferguson.

“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,” Obama said.

But as the US president promised a full investigation into the case, local police announced they would not release the shooter’s names, citing security concerns and death threats — a move that infuriated an already enraged community.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, standing with the parents of 18-year-old Michael Brown, criticized the decision, saying the secrecy is fuelling mistrust of the police in Ferguson, a predominantly black city of about 21,000 residents where violent protests broke out following the shooting. The officer was placed on administrative leave Saturday after the shooting, said Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson. The race of the officer involved in the shooting also hasn’t been disclosed, but witnesses said he was white.

Friends and family of 18-year-old teenager planned a peaceful church vigil last night and his father pleaded for an end to the violence that has followed the incident, while activists demanded authorities release the name of the officer involved. Standing with supporters, Michael Brown Senior said he wanted justice for his son but wanted it “the right way.”

“I need all of us to come together and do this right, the right way,” he said. “No violence.”

Civil rights leaders have drawn comparisons in recent days between Brown’s death and that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by a Florida neighbourhood watch volunteer who was later acquitted of murder charges.

Conflicting accounts

Brown was shot to death in the back of a police car on Saturday, police said. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially- charged case and St Louis County also is investigating.

Authorities have been vague about what led the officer to open fire, saying only that the shooting was preceded by a scuffle. Police said Brown was shot in a struggle with a gun in the police car but have not said why Brown was in the vehicle. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said.

But a witness to the shooting interviewed on local media, Dorian Johnson, has said that Brown had been putting his hands up to surrender when he was killed.

“There were many, many witnesses who have talked to family members and they paint a very different picture than police witnesses,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Brown family who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin.

One witness, Phillip Walker, said that he was on the porch of an apartment complex overlooking the scene when he saw a white officer with Brown on the street. Brown “was giving up in the sense of raising his arms and being subdued,” Walker said.

The “hands up” gesture has been frequently seen at protests over the shooting. More than 100 protesters in front of the St Louis County Courthouse in nearby Clayton yesterday morning chanted “hands up, don’t shoot.”

In a sign of the severity of the situation, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ban on air traffic under 900 metres above Ferguson. The order said the ban was “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.” Such bans are typically requested by police departments so that their aircraft do not tangle with news helicopters.

Protests over Brown’s death turned contentious late Monday and early yesterday, leading to an hours-long standoff in Ferguson between several dozen local residents and dozens of officers in full riot gear just blocks from where he was killed. There were at least five arrests.

Nearly three dozen people were arrested following a candlelight vigil Sunday night as crowds burned and looted stores, vandalized vehicles, assaulted reporters and taunted officers. A large crowd that gathered Monday at a burned-out convenience store turned rowdy at nightfall, with people throwing rocks at police. Officers used tear gas and shot “beanbag rounds” meant to stun them.

Herald with AP, Reuters

of Ferguson after days of unrest following killing of unarmed black teenager
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