After a much-heralded day of calm in Ferguson, Missouri, tensions and anger revisited the town Friday night, with the outrage of protesters seemingly prompted by law enforcement’s decision to release images that police say show Michael Brown robbed a convenience store before he was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson last week.
The grainy images from the store showed a large man apparently manhandling a much smaller man during what police say was the robbery of a $48.99 box of cigars. But as Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released the pictures, he seemed to imply that Wilson didn’t know 18-year-old Brown was a suspect in a robbery. That disclosure made onlookers wonder why he released the images unless it was an attempt to assassinate the character of the teen, who has been described as a “gentle giant” by family members.
The store where the robbery allegedly occurred was the scene of looting Friday night — until a group of peaceful protesters intervened and about a dozen blocked the front of the convenience store to help protect it.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who had been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to oversee the police response to the protests and who was credited with bringing calm Thursday, confirmed that some of the protesters in the large and rowdy but mostly well-behaved crowd broke into the same small store Brown had been accused of robbing. Johnson said in response police fired a tear gas canister at the crowd.
He said one officer was injured when some in the crowd began throwing rocks and other objects at police.
Johnson said to ease tension police backed off and no arrests were made.
“We had to evaluate the security of the officers there and also the rioters,” Johnson said. “We just felt it was better to move back.”
After President Barack Obama said the FBI and Department of Justice were conducting an independent investigation, the Justice Department confirmed Friday that FBI agents had conducted several interviews with witnesses as part of a civil-rights investigation into Brown’s death. The statement from the Justice Department indicated that the agents plan to canvass the neighborhood where the shooting happened to get more information.
With the allegations about the store robbery, renewed attention will certainly be focused on Brown. Many are angry that the images and the robbery will be used by some to imply that his shooting was somehow justified — even though Wilson apparently was not responding to the robbery call when he confronted Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson, who police have mentioned as his possible accomplice.
And even if it turns out that Brown did indeed rob the store before he was killed, it will be hard for anyone to argue with the contention that the punishment for robbery in the U.S. is not execution by police.