President Obama was briefed Wednesday night on the intensifying situation in a St. Louis suburb where protesters continue to clash with police in the wake of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
Obama, who has been vacationing with his family on Martha’s Vineyard, was briefed on the unfolding situation in Ferguson Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Attorney General Eric Holder. Obama is scheduled for an update sometime Thursday morning.
The president has kept a measured tone and urged calm, saying earlier in the week, “we should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
But the situation on the ground has left the St. Louis suburb on edge. There were standoffs and reports of objects, including Molotov cocktails, being thrown at SWAT teams. Police responded by lobbing tear gas and concussion grenades to disperse the crowds. Video footage released from the dark streets resembled images usually reserved for warzones.
The protests stemmed from Saturday’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, whom police have said was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. Police said one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle. Police said there was a struggle for the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car.
“But the people want answers. When we get answers, things will calm down.”
– Protester tells The New York TImes
The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. In their initial news conference about the shooting, police didn’t specify whether Brown was the person who scuffled with the officer in the car and have refused to clarify their account.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said Wednesday that the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.
Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown when the shooting happened, has told a different story. He told media outlets that the officer ordered them out of the street, then tried to open his door so close to the men that it “ricocheted” back, apparently upsetting the officer.
Johnson says the officer grabbed his friend’s neck, then tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times. Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.
Police on Wednesday arrested two reporters, one from The Washington Post and the other from The Huffington Post, who were apparently working inside a McDonald’s restaurant.
Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post said they were handcuffed and put into a police van. The Post reported that Lowery said he was slammed against a soda machine and plastic cuffs were put on his wrists.
“Compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or militant aggression toward these journalists,” The Huffington Post said in a statement Thursday.
Early Wednesday, St. Louis County police responded to a report of eight masked men with shotguns. A 19-year-old man was shot by police after he allegedly pointed a handgun at an officer. The teen, identified as Esrail Eli Britton, and is in critical condition. He was charged with second-degree assault.
Classes in the suburb, which were supposed to begin Thursday, have been delayed until Monday.
District spokeswoman Jana Shortt said in a statement the decision was made “in response to concerns expressed by many about continuing unrest in our community.” Shortt said waiting to begin the year until Monday will give time for all students and their families to resume normal routines.
Police, however, have been struggling to get a firm grip on the situation, perhaps in part because of its decision not to identify the police officer who shot Brown. (The ACLU of Missouri reportedly filed a request under the state’s Sunshine Law, to demand the incident report.) Police say they’re withholding the name for safety concerns. Some in the community see it as a way for police to release only the information they want to.
“I get why they want to protect him,” Meko Taylor, 36, of Ferguson, who was at a protest, told The New York Times. “But the people want answers. When we get answers, things will calm down.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report