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U.S. attorney general visits Ferguson

Police arrest a man as they disperse a protest in Ferguson, Mo., early Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

FERGUSON, Missouri: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited St. Louis, Missouri, Wednesday after the latest in a string of violent protests over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

Holder, who is himself African American, is to oversee the federal response to the Aug. 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Brown’s remains are undergoing three separate autopsies – by local authorities, the family and Holder’s Justice Department.

In an op-ed column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper Wednesday, Holder pledged what he called a full, fair and independent probe.

“And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil rights leaders and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding – and robust action – aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law enforcement officials and the communities we serve,” he wrote.

In Tuesday’s protest three guns were seized and protesters threw glass and plastic bottles of water and urine at police toward the end of the demo, prompting officers to intervene and make the arrests, said Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

But Johnson stressed that, unlike during a violent protest Monday night, this time protesters did not fire guns at police and officers refrained from using tear gas to break up the rally.

“Tonight we saw a different dynamic,” he said.

He attributed this to a concerted effort by community leaders, activists and clergy to keep the rally peaceful and prevent it from being taken over by what he described as violent “agitators.”

Fears that the fatal police shooting of a knife-wielding black man in St. Louis itself Tuesday might renew tensions failed to materialize, after successive nights of clashes with police in Ferguson.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” protesters chanted, holding their hands in the air in what has become the signature slogan of Ferguson’s frustration with its overwhelmingly white police department.

Meanwhile Brown’s family was preparing for his funeral, which their lawyer said would be held Monday.

In contrast to previous nights, rather than firing tear gas head-on into the crowd, police with riot shields and armored vehicles kept a lower profile. They finally intervened around midnight, pushing the remaining crowd toward a newly designated public assembly area in a former car dealership.

Mingling with citizens at the outset of the march, Johnson – who is black and charged with restoring order in this mainly black town of 21,000 – denounced what he called “criminal elements” who, after dark Sunday and Monday, had ignored police orders to disperse.

“Cowards hide in the dark, and it’s time for that to stop,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, in St. Louis a few kilometers away, officers shot dead an agitated man who yelled “kill me now” as he rushed at them with a knife during an apparent convenience store robbery.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Captain Ed Kuntz told reporters at the scene that an investigation had been launched, but, based on what he had heard, “it seems reasonable to say it was justifiable.”

Police have identified the white police officer who shot Brown in broad daylight on a residential street as Darren Wilson, 28, in the force for six years.

Brown’s family wants Wilson, who reportedly has been granted leave from his duties, charged with murder for “executing” their son.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2014, on page 11.

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