Police came under “heavy gunfire” and 31 people were arrested, authorities said on Tuesday, in racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri sparked by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman 10 days ago.
“Not a single bullet was fired by officers despite coming under heavy attack (on Monday night),” State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told a news conference, adding that police had confiscated two guns from protesters.
Demonstrations, mostly peaceful but with spasms of violence by smaller groups, have flared since Michael Brown, 18, was shot dead during an incident with a policeman in a patrol car while walking down a residential street in Ferguson on Aug. 9.
Obama urges restraint
On Monday, US President Barack Obama said that the vast majority of protesters in Ferguson were peaceful, but warned that a small minority was undermining justice for the Brown, who was shot six times, including twice in the head, by a white police officer.
Obama urged restraint on the part of both law enforcement and protesters.
“To a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other,” Obama told a news conference. “Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.”
Obama said that anger over the death of the 18-year-old was understandable, but condemned the violence and theft that had taken place during the protests.
'Protestors don't throw Molotov cocktails' - Capt. Ron Johnson, head of security in Ferguson
“It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting,” he said. “Looting, or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos.”
The president said he was sending Attorney General Eric Holder to meet with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation into Brown’s death.
He said he also had told Missouri Governor Jay Nixon he wanted to ensure the use the National Guard in help calm tensions in Ferguson must be limited in scope, and said he would be monitoring that operation in the coming days to see whether the guard’s involvement was helping or hurting.
“There’s no excuse for any excessive action by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully,” Obama said.
The ongoing confrontation, with military-style vehicles rolling through suburban streets, has left Americans and others wondering how such a war-like scene could play out in the country’s heartland.
Breaking the taboo on racial tensions
Weighing his words carefully, Obama said it was clear that disparities in how blacks and whites are treated and sentenced must be addressed, calling for more safeguards and training to prevent missteps. At the same time, he acknowledged the difficult situation that police officers sometimes face.
“There are young black men that commit crime. We can argue about why that happened – because the poverty they were born into or the school systems that failed them or what have you – but if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted,” Obama said. “Because every community has an interest in public safety.”
Obama’s remarks on the crisis were the first since the situation in Ferguson escalated over the weekend, with Nixon, the Missouri governor, ordering a midnight curfew for Ferguson and ordering National Guard troops to help restore order. Nixon lifted that curfew on Monday, but tensions remained high the morning after police once again deployed tear gas in response to what they said were reports of gunfire, looting and vandalism by protesters.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-19