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Obama urges calm after police shoot unarmed black teen

© Scott Olson, AFP | A memorial in the street where Michael Brown was shot dead by police.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-13

US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police last week was "heartbreaking" and called for "reflection and understanding" after the incident sparked protests and arrests in a Missouri suburb.

Obama promised a full investigation by the US Department of Justice into the case, which has provoked outrage in the largely African-American town of Ferguson, where police have not released the shooter’s name, citing security concerns.

“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but ... I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama called Brown's death "heartbreaking", but called on mourners to comfort each other "in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds".

Friends and family of 18-year-old Michael Brown planned a peaceful church vigil for Tuesday 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.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said on Tuesday he’s holding off on publicly identifying the officer, who was placed on administrative leave Saturday after the shooting, because of death threats.

Police had initially said they would release the officer’s name on Tuesday.

‘Name hiding’

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, standing with the parents of Brown, criticised the decision, saying the secrecy is fuelling mistrust of the police in Ferguson, a predominantly black city of about 21,000 residents.

“The local authorities have put themselves in a position – hiding names and not being transparent – where people will not trust anything but an objective investigation,” Sharpton, standing with Brown’s mother and father, said during a news conference outside a St. Louis courthouse.

But he also echoed pleas by Brown’s parents and the NAACP civil rights group for peaceful protests in Ferguson, where the case has stoked racial tension, protests and looting.

“To become violent in Michael Brown’s name is to betray the gentle giant that he was,” New York-based Sharpton said of the 6-foot, 4-inch (198-cm) Brown, who was supposed to start college this week. Sharpton’s National Action Network will pay for Brown’s funeral.

Michael Brown Sr. 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,” said Brown Sr., who wore a T-shirt showing his son’s baby picture. “No violence.”

Conflicting accounts

Brown was shot to death in the back of a police car on Saturday, police said. The race of the officer, a six-year veteran, has also not been revealed.

The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St. Louis County also is investigating.

Police said Brown was shot in a struggle with a gun in the police car but have not said why Brown was in the car. 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 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. Crump also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Florida by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in 2012.

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 on Tuesday morning chanted “hands up, don’t shoot”.

Residents in the low-income neighbourhood where Brown was killed say they are often harassed by police. Police Chief Jackson said the neighbourhood had a lot of crime but there were no race problems.

Ferguson has seen a stark demographic shift in recent decades, going from all white to mostly black. About two-thirds of the town’s 21,000-strong population are black, while out of a police force of 53, three officers are black.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-08-13

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