Tensions Ease In Ferguson After Scuffle Breaks Out Near Police Chief
Tensions eased and streets cleared early Friday in Ferguson, Missouri, after another night of tension and arrests.
Emotions spiked following a late-night appearance by Police Chief Thomas Jackson to address the crowd and take questions from protesters.
Earlier in the day, he apologized for his department’s actions after Michael Brown’s shooting but pledged not to resign.
Dramatically wading into the crowd, Jackson apologized again.
“I’m sorry, and I said that from my heart,” he said. “I had to get that off my chest. It’s been sitting there for two months.”
But not everyone was anxious to hear from him.
“If you are not resigning tonight, go home,” one man said on a bullhorn.
“What do you want me to do?” Jackson asked a protester. “Talk to me.”
It was shortly after Jackson agreed to walk and talk with the demonstrators that a scuffle broke out a short distance behind the chief, and officers moved in to make arrests. There was no indication that Jackson was directly threatened, but he was quickly escorted inside the Police Department building.
For several hours, police officers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the Police Department with protesters a short distance away — some milling about and others chanting.
Not resigning but ‘taking ownership’
In a CNN interview, Jackson addressed his rationale for staying on the job and not resigning.
“This is mine, and I’m taking ownership of it,” he told CNN.
Jackson acknowledged that he’s heard calls for his ouster.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have initially called for that and then changed their mind after having meetings and discussions about moving forward,” Jackson said. “Realistically, I’m going to stay here and see this through.”
By ‘this,” he means taking a leadership role in a police department and a community that is still marred by discord and distrust of authorities — especially among those in its large African-American community — since the August 9 shooting. Brown was an 18-year-old black teenager killed by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
Despite demands by protesters, Wilson has not been charged in this case, though a grand jury is hearing evidence that could lead to an indictment.
The shooting also stirred complaints of widespread racial profiling in Ferguson, which Jackson rejected Thursday.
“It’s never been the intention of the Ferguson Police Department — or any police department that I know — to intentionally target individuals because of race,” said the chief. “If there is that happening, it’s a crime and it needs to be addressed.”
Chief says he’s sorry Brown’s body wasn’t moved sooner
Jackson’s interview with CNN came Thursday afternoon, shortly after the release of his video apology to Brown’s parents and the peaceful demonstrators who took to Ferguson’s streets to protest Brown’s death.
In that video, the chief expressed regret that it took investigating officers four hours to remove Brown’s body from the street after he was shot dead.
“I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son. I’m also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street,” he said in his video statement.
Investigators were doing “important work” trying to uncover the truth and collect evidence in those four hours, Jackson said, but “it was just too long, and I’m truly sorry for that.”
“Please know that the investigating officers meant no disrespect to the Brown family, to the African-American community or the people (in the neighborhood where Brown was shot). They were simply trying to do their jobs,” Jackson said.
Asked Thursday afternoon why the apology took so long, Jackson told CNN, “There’s been so much going on, and every day there’s a different challenge.”
He said he’s been wanting to apologize for “the time it took to remove Michael from the scene,” and he feels better now that he’s done it.
“This is something that’s just been weighing on me. It’s something that needed to be said. It should’ve been said a long time ago,” he told CNN.
Feels ‘responsible’ if peaceful protesters were ‘upset’
Dressed casually in a red polo shirt, Jackson acknowledged in his video apology that most protesters who took to the streets of Ferguson after the shooting did so peacefully, even if there were others among them “who had a different agenda.”
Jackson singled out the peaceful protesters in his video.
“The right of the people to peacefully assemble is what the police are here to protect. If anyone who was peacefully exercising that right is upset and angry, I feel responsible and I’m sorry,” he said.
He also acknowledged that the incident has sparked a larger conversation about societal issues, and he expressed interest in being part of the discussion.
“Overnight I went from being a small-town police chief to being part of a conversation about racism, equality and the role of policing in that conversation. As chief of police, I want to be part of that conversation. I also want to be part of the solution,” he said.
He emphasized that “the city belongs to all of us” and conceded that Ferguson and the surrounding areas have “much work to do.”
“For any mistakes I’ve made, I take full responsibility. It’s an honor to serve the city of Ferguson and the people who live there. I look forward to working with you in the future to solve our problems, and once again, I deeply apologize to the Brown family,” he said.
Afterward, some Ferguson residents who’d criticized police and backed the Browns expressed satisfaction with the apology, saying it needed to be said.
Others described it as too little too late, or at least called it useless unless Jackson’s words are backed up by actions to change things in Ferguson.
Fresh violence on the streets
The St. Louis suburb of 21,000 people was cast into the national spotlight when protests erupted after Wilson shot Brown.
The demonstrations quickly devolved into looting, vandalism and violence but eventually calmed. Ferguson erupted again this week after one of three Brown memorials at the site of the shooting burned.
While many peaceful protesters took to the street Tuesday night, violent elements within the demonstration stoked chaos, attacking police with guns, rocks and bottles and vandalizing and looting businesses, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said. One person threw a Molotov cocktail at a parking structure, and there was an attempt to set a gasoline fire at a custard shop, he said.
Two officers were injured, one of whom was struck by a rock below the eye, Johnson said.
While Johnson promised that police would protect public safety as well as the freedoms of speech and expression, he warned that police would have no choice but to respond to any violent actions.
“If that means officers will respond in riot gear, they will,” he said Wednesday. “We cannot have nights like last night. We can’t have actions like last night that can result in injury or death. Those will not be tolerated.”
In recent days, the City Council has taken up measures to reform court procedures and the way the city handles certain fines.
The City Council is also considering a citizen review board that would work with the Police Department.