Hundreds of protesters converged on the police department in Ferguson, Mo., on Sunday morning shouting “Don’t shoot me!” following a confrontation the night before in which the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer sparked what officials said was a near riot.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the youth, Michael Brown, 18, had struggled for an officer’s gun in a patrol car before the officer fired several shots. Witnesses have said the youth had his hands in the air as he fled the patrol car.
Belmar said there would be a thorough investigation, with possible inclusion of the FBI. Because Brown is African American, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has also said it would seek a federal investigation.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson described the incident as “tragic” in an interview with Fox 2, the local Fox television affiliate. “It’s tragic for the community. It’s tragic for our police family.”
“We want this to come to a conclusion quickly,” Jackson said.
The unnamed officer who fired the shots – who has been on the force for six years – has been placed on paid administrative leave.
The number of shots fired is unknown, though Belmar said Brown was shot “more than just a couple of times.”
According to Belmar, Brown was walking with a friend in the middle of the street when an officer attempted to exit his vehicle. Police said Brown pushed the officer back into the police car.
Brown then entered the officer’s vehicle and a struggle ensued over the officer’s weapon, according to police. During the physical altercation a shot was fired inside of the car.
The officer and Brown then exited the vehicle and at that point the fatal shooting occurred, Belmar said.
Witnesses have had different accounts.
Dorin Johnson, a friend of the victim, told Fox 2 that he was walking in the street with Brown when the police squad car pulled up. The officer said to “Get the eff onto the sidewalk,” he recounted.
“It was not but a minute from our destination and we would be off the street,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the officer didn’t get out of his police car, but “reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around the neck.”
“I witnessed the police chase after the guy, full force,” said witness Piaget Crenshaw. “He ran for his life. They shot him and he fell. He put his arms up to let them know that he was compliant and he was unarmed and they shot him twice more and he fell to the ground and died.”
Belmar said the entire crime scene extends roughly 35 feet from where the police car was parked to where the fatal shooting took place, and where shell casings matching the officer’s weapon have been found.
He said toxicology reports for the shooting death could take six weeks to be completed and returned.
While the police held the press conference Sunday, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Ferguson police station, saying, “Don’t shoot me” as they held up their hands.
The protesters chanted, “We want answers” and “No justice, no peace,” some carrying signs saying “Stop police terrorism” and “Disarm the police,” according to the Associated Press.
Saturday, following the shooting, hundreds of residents from the neighborhood gathered at the crime scene in protest, and at one point the crowd grew to as large as 1,000, according to local media reports.
“It got heated very quickly,” Jackson said. “There was lots of crowds gathering, lots of shouting and anger, protests and so forth.”
Brown’s grandmother, Desiree Harris, told the Associated Press that she was driving through the neighborhood Saturday afternoon when she saw her grandson running a few blocks from her house.
Brown was supposed to start college classes Monday.
“He was running this way,” she said. “When I got up there, my grandson was lying on the pavement. I asked the police what happened. They didn’t tell me nothing.”
Louis Head, Brown’s stepfather, held a sign that said, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”
Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, said the shooting was “wrong and it was cold-hearted.”
By early Saturday night, dozens of police cars remained parked near the shooting scene as mourners left votive candles at a makeshift memorial in the middle of the street.
At the height of the post-shooting tensions, police at the scene called for about 60 other police units to respond to the area in Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 residents, about two-thirds of whom are black, the AP reported.
The crowd eventually dispersed.
“We are hurt to hear that yet another teenaged boy has been slaughtered by law enforcement especially in light of the recent death of Eric Garner in New York who was killed for selling cigarettes,” St. Louis County NAACP President Esther Haywood said in a statement Saturday.