Photo: Jay Nixon
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency on Saturday and ordered a curfew in Ferguson, the town where a week ago a policeman killed a young African-American, which has provoked disturbances almost every day since then.
Michael Brown, 18, died in a violent confrontation with police last Saturday, a racially tinged shooting that has infuriated many of the residents of Ferguson, a mostly black St. Louis suburb.
The curfew decreed by Nixon will go into effect Saturday night at midnight and will be in force until 5:00 a.m., local authorities said in a joint press conference with the governor.
“In the morning, this community will rise with the sun to renew its quest for justice,” the governor said in an appearance at a local church attended by citizens of Ferguson, who continually interrupted the authorities with demands for justice and protests against the curfew.
Ferguson was peaceful last Thursday night following Missouri Gov. Nixon’s decision to shift responsibility for the situation from municipal and St. Louis County police to the state Highway Patrol.
The governor placed Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, an African American who grew up in the area, in command of operations in the town, whose police force had come under criticism for a heavy-handed response to the protests.
But tensions flared again after authorities on Friday heeded demands to name the officer who fired the fatal shots but also at the same time released copies of an incident report about a strong-arm robbery at an area convenience store shortly before the deadly confrontation.
Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, told the media that Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the force with a clean disciplinary record, was the officer involved in Brown’s death.
The chief made no mention of Wilson’s race, though witnesses to the shooting said the officer - like nearly all of Ferguson’s police force - was white.
On Saturday morning, hours after the town was rocked overnight by fresh looting, the governor commented that “small groups took to the streets with the intent of committing crimes and endangering citizens. That is unacceptable.”
Nixon said he had spoken with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and that the Justice Department is stepping up its investigation of the case, which has unleashed racial tensions in a town of 21,000 inhabitants, of whom two-thirds of the population is African-American.
“This is a test of whether a community - this community, any community - can break the cycle of fear, distrust and violence and replace them with peace, strength and ultimately justice,” Nixon said.
Police say Brown or his friend Johnson pushed Wilson into his squad car and then struggled with him over his gun.
One shot was fired inside the vehicle and several more on the street, according to the police account.
Johnson, however, says the officer initially ordered the pair to get on the sidewalk and then pulled up closer to them and reached out to grab Brown, who tried to flee.
The officer chased Brown and fired several shots, even though the youth had his hands up, Johnson and several other witnesses say.
Brown’s family and demonstrators in Ferguson slammed the release of the video by Ferguson’s police force, seeing it as an attempt to distract attention from the killing and paint the young man as a violent thug.
The confusion and outrage increased when the police, in two press conferences on Friday, offered conflicting versions of the shooting: one in which they said Wilson knew Brown was a robbery suspect and another indicating the two incidents were unrelated.