President Obama yesterday called the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown “heartbreaking,” while authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, still refuse to release the name of the white officer who killed him because of death threats against the officer and his family.
People around the country turned to social media over the last couple of days to express their outrage and frustration over Brown’s death. There was a growing sentiment that Obama was derelict by not commenting on Brown, who was gunned down on a Ferguson street in the middle of the afternoon – particularly after the president issued a swift statement from his vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard on the death of comedian Robin Williams.
But a statement from the president came from the White House yesterday afternoon. This is it in its entirety:
“The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time. As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed. I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”
With the FBI and lawyers from Eric Holder’s Justice Department now involved in the investigation, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told CNN why he hasn’t released the officer’s name.
“We started getting death threats against him and his family, and although that’s not most of the people, we took these things seriously,” Jackson said. “We think that they’re credible threats … Right now the safety factor far outweighs the benefit from releasing the name, which is minimal.”
But Benjamin Crump, the lawyer representing Brown’s family, disagreed with the chief.
“That doesn’t give the community confidence. That doesn’t make it transparent,” Crump told reporters. “And remember, we’ve got a long way to go before this community starts to believe that the police are going to give them all the answers and not try to sweep it under the rug.”
He said police should have released the officer’s name 72 hours after the shooting, saying if police are going to ask residents of Ferguson to obey the law “then it’s got to work both ways.”
Jackson said that while his office doesn’t know when it will release the name, it isn’t violating any laws.
“The prosecuting attorney and the St. Louis County police chief agree that this is the prudent step to take under the circumstances,” he said.
The police haven’t backed down from the improbable story that was released 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 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.’”
Then the officer shot Brown, Johnson said. After the shot, Brown and Johnson tried to run away. 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.
Johnson told CNN that the officer seemed stunned afterward.
“It’s almost like he wasn’t paying attention to me anymore. It’s like he was in shock himself, and his vision wasn’t on anything but my friend Big Mike,” he said.
African-American leaders held a press conference yesterday with Rev. Al Sharpton, who urged the citizens of Ferguson not to “betray the gentle giant” that Brown was, by allowing their anger over his killing to lead to violence.
“Don’t be a traitor to Michael Brown in the name of ‘you mad,’ ” Sharpton said.
While 63 percent of Ferguson’s residents over age 16 are African-American, only three of the police department’s 53 officers — just over 5 percent — are African-American, Jackson said.
He claimed that he is pushing for more diversity and racial profiling is “strictly forbidden.”
“Racial profiling is against our policies,” he said. “It actually benefits nothing.”
Jackson said the shooting “has been a tragedy for the city and the country.”
“It breaks my heart some think I’m part of the problem,” he said Tuesday night, promising the crowd at a community forum that he would be part of the solution.
The story in Ferguson has taken a curious turn due to the actions of a collective of hacker activists who call themselves Anonymous. Using the Twitter account @TheAnonMessage, the group has issued warnings to the Ferguson Police Department. It also released a video warning the police of retaliation if the officers harmed the demonstrators protesting Brown’s shooting and it released the image of what appeared to be Brown’s body lying in the street.
Showing its reach, the group released a picture of a man lying on the couch, claiming it was Belmar’s son, with a picture of the Confederate flag on the wall behind him. It threatened to release information on Belmar’s daughter if he didn’t release the name of the officer who shot Brown, but after considerable backlash from Twitter followers Anonymous backed off from the threat.
“We have recognized that releasing vital information on Belmar’s family is damaging to the overall message of justice for Mike Brown,” Anonymous said in a tweet. “We will therefore cease in releasing any more information on Belmar’s family. We still continue to demand the release of the officer’s name.”
“We recognize that Jon Belmar has had enough damage done to him. We will save the rest of our energy for the true perpetrator,” the group said.