Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, hope they’ve seen an end to the angry outbursts of violence that have wracked the community since the Saturday killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown and Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday that the police shooting “deserves a fulsome review.”
The nation’s top law enforcement officer released a statement outlining the steps the federal government is taking to find out what really happened to Brown. The version of events that was released by St. Louis County police differs wildly from eyewitness accounts.
Meanwhile, Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., asked for peace from the enraged Black community because that’s what his son would have wanted. There have been nearly three dozen arrests stemming from the community’s explosion of anger.
“He wouldn’t have wanted none of that,” Brown said of the rioting and looting. “We’re going to do it the right way. But we need justice for our son.”
Holder said FBI agents from the St. Louis field office are working with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The federal investigation will supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities,” said Holder, who has spoken out on numerous occasions about the precariousness of young Black life, and has even talked about the conversation he had to have with his son about how to behave around the police.
“At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right,” Holder said in his statement. “I will continue to receive regular updates on this matter in the coming days. Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP, spoke at a church in St. Louis and slammed the rioters as he also called for a fair and transparent investigation.
“To sneak around under the cover of darkness, to loot, to steal, to burn down your neighborhood, this does not require courage,” Brooks told the crowd. “When you struggle for justice, that requires courage.”
There has been considerable skepticism surrounding the implausible sequence of events recounted by St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.
Belmar said the 18-year-old Brown, who was due to start classes this week at Vatterott College and was spending the summer with his grandmother, was walking in the middle of the street with a friend when a police officer pulled up next to the pair. But as the officer attempted to exit his vehicle, Brown suddenly pushed the officer back in his car and tried to take the officer’s weapon. A shot was fired inside the police car as the two struggled, according to Belmar, then the officer and the teenager got out of the car, and the officer shot Brown “more than just a couple of times.”
But in an exclusive interview with Trymaine Lee of MSNBC, Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, 22, recounted a story that sounded much more believable. Johnson said the last moments of Brown’s life were filled with shock and fear as the officer opened fire just feet away from him.
“I saw the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” Johnson said. “Then I saw the fire come out of the barrel.”
Johnson said that he and his friend were walking together on the street, talking, when the officer rolled up next to them and said, “get the f**k onto the sidewalk.”
They told the officer that they were just minutes away from their destination and they kept walking. At that point, Johnson told MSNBC that the officer slammed his brakes and threw his truck in reverse, nearly hitting them. He then said something like, “What’d you say?” before attempting to push open his door. But the door slammed into Brown and bounced closed, at which point the officer reached out with his left hand and grabbed Brown by the neck.
“I could see the muscles in his forearm,” Johnson said. “Mike was trying to get away from being choked.”
“They’re not wrestling so much as his arm went from his throat to now clenched on his shirt,” Johnson said. “It’s like tug of war. He’s trying to pull him in. He’s pulling away, that’s when I heard, ‘I’m gonna shoot you.’”
“I seen the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” he said. “He had it pointed at him and said, ‘I’ll shoot,’ one more time.”
Then the officer shot Brown, Johnson said.
Johnson said he saw blood pooling through his shirt on the right side of the body.
“The whole time [the officer] was holding my friend until the gun went off,” Johnson said.
After the shot, Brown and Johnson tried to run away. Johnson ducked behind a car — whose two passengers were screaming — while Brown ran by.
“Keep running, bro!,” he said Brown yelled at him.
The officer shot at Brown again, Johnson said, hitting him in the back. Johnson said Brown stopped, turned with his hands up and said, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”
But now face-to-face with Brown, the officer then fired several more shots, causing Brown to crumble to the ground in a fetal position.
Freeman Bosley, Johnson’s attorney, told MSNBC that the police hadn’t yet interviewed Johnson, declining Bosley’s offer to speak to him.
“They didn’t even want to talk to him,” said Bosley, a former mayor of St. Louis. “They don’t want the facts. What they want is to justify what happened … what they are trying to do now is justify what happened instead of trying to point out the wrong. Something is wrong here and that’s what it is.”