Missouri shooting victim called quiet, respectful
By DAVID A. LIEB
FERGUSON, Mo. — Michael Brown Sr. stood alone in the center of the narrow street where the blood of his namesake son still stained the gray pavement, two days after the 18-year-old was shot dead by a police officer. He straightened a waist-high wooden cross and re-lit the candles erected as part of a makeshift memorial.
"Big Mike," as some of his friends called Michael Brown Jr., wasn't the type to fight, family and neighbors said, though he lived in a restless neighborhood where police were on frequent patrol. His parents and neighbors described him as a good-hearted kid with an easy smile who certainly wouldn't have condoned the violence and looting that spread though his north St. Louis suburb following his death.
"He was funny, silly, he would make you laugh," his father said, and when there was "any problem going on, any situation, there wasn't nothing that he couldn't solve. He could bring people back together."
Brown, who was unarmed, was shot Saturday by a Ferguson police officer while walking with a friend down the center of the street. Police have said a scuffle broke out after the officer asked the boys to move to the side. Witnesses say Brown's arms were in the air — in a sign of surrender — as a white policeman repeatedly shot the black youth.
After a vigil Sunday night, an angry crowd looted stores, and a night later police in Ferguson fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters. The U.S. Justice Department has announced that its civil rights division was opening an investigation, and Brown's family retained the same lawyer who had represented relatives of Trayvon Martin — the Florida teen killed in a racially charged 2012 shooting. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton was to meet with Brown's family on Tuesday as tensions remained high.
Brown was among a small group of students who had graduated Aug. 1 from Normandy High School, needing the summer to finish their required credits.
"We can't even celebrate; we've got to plan a funeral," said his tearful mother, Lesley McSpadden.
He had been staying at his grandmother's apartment, where he would often hang out in the parking lot tossing a football with friends, said Markese Mull, a neighbor whose 17-year-old-son was one of Brown's closer friends.
Brown was an aspiring rapper, though it was more of a hobby. This week, he was supposed to start college in pursuit of a career as a heating and air conditioning engineer. On the day of his death, Brown had walked with another friend to a nearby convenience store. Mull saw them in the street and honked his horn to say to "hi" — just minutes before the police officer came by.
"He was never a person who liked confrontation," Mull said. "His smile was going to make you smile."
Neighbors described Brown as quiet and respectful — a "good boy," who "was never in trouble," said Sharon Johnson, 58, who lives just a little ways down the street. Johnson said Brown would frequently stop to chat.
"We talked about how when you turn yourself to the Lord you feel so good — and good things come your way," Johnson said. "He had a more mature mind than a little boy's mind."
On Monday, Johnson was standing at the side of the street where Brown was shot as a woman who had driven in from a nearby community preached loudly to anyone willing to listen about the importance of peaceful protests and parental discipline for teenagers.
A passing car stopped, letting out a man wearing a newly made black T-shirt bearing Brown's baby picture and the words "NO JUSTICE NO PEACE."
"I'm his father," he said somberly, eliciting hugs.
The older Brown picked up a piece of cardboard that had been lying on the ground. "End police brutality," it read. He placed it on a pile of toy animals stacked by a streetlight pole, then set about straightening up his son's mid-street memorial.
He had just returned to the grass when a gunshot rang out. Then another. And another. It was time to go.
FERGUSON, Mo. — Police in riot gear fired tear gas into a crowd of protesters in a St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager had been fatally shot by police over the weekend, as tension rose even amid calls for collective calm.
Between two nights of unrest, a community forum hosted by the local NAACP chapter Monday night drew hundreds to a sweltering church in Ferguson, the nearly 70 percent black St. Louis County suburb where an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was shot multiple times by a police officer.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said a large crowd that gathered throughout Monday at the site of a burned-out convenience store turned rowdy at nightfall, throwing rocks at police. Officers used tear gas and shot "beanbag rounds" meant to stun them, he said.
St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman said there were at least five arrests and no reports of looting. Nearly three dozen people were arrested following a candlelight vigil Sunday night when crowds burned stores, vandalized vehicles, assaulted reporters and taunted officers.
"People are tired. They have reached the end of their rope," said Ruth Latchison Nichols after the NAACP forum, where many more were left waiting outside once the pews reached capacity. "Enough is enough. This is a state of emergency."
Early Tuesday, the streets of Ferguson were once again calm. A handful of police officers sat in patrol cars near a burned out gas station, vastly outnumbered by the news crews putting together their early reports.
National NAACP President Cornell William Brooks implored residents to "turn your anger into action" while condemning the violent response to Brown's death.
"To sneak around under the cover of darkness, to steal, to loot, to burn down your neighborhood — this does not require courage," he said. "Courage is when you strive for justice."
"Martin Luther King did not live and die so that we may steal and lie in the middle of the night," he added.
The FBI has opened an investigation into Brown's death, looking into possible civil rights violations. Witnesses have said that Brown had his hands raised when the unidentified officer approached with his weapon drawn and fired repeatedly.
Brown's parents have been among those calling for calm. His family, who had planned to drop him off at a technical college Monday to begin his studies, have asked people to share any information and videos they might have related to the shooting.
Authorities have been vague about what led the officer to open fire, saying only that the shooting — which is being investigated by the St. Louis County police at the smaller city's request — was preceded by a scuffle of some kind with a man in which the officer's weapon discharged once inside a patrol car.
Investigators have refused to publicly disclose the race of the officer, who is now on administrative leave. But Phillip Walker said he was on the porch of an apartment complex overlooking the scene when he heard a shot and saw a white officer with Brown on the street.
Brown "was giving up in the sense of raising his arms and being subdued," Walker told The Associated Press. The officer "had his gun raised and started shooting the individual in the chest multiple times." The officer then "stood over him and shot him" after the victim fell wounded.
Dorian Johnson offered a similar account, telling KMOV-TV that he and Brown were walking home from a convenience store when a police officer told them to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Johnson said they kept walking, which caused the officer to confront them from his car and again after getting out of the vehicle.
Johnson said the first time the officer fired, he and Brown got scared and ran away.
"He shot again, and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air, and he started to get down," Johnson said. "But the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots."
"We wasn't causing harm to nobody," Johnson said. "We had no weapons on us at all."
Walker said that he did not see a scuffle or the circumstances that preceded the first gunshot.
Jackson, the Ferguson police chief, said there's no video footage of the shooting from the apartment complex or from any police dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but has not yet put to use.
Some civil rights leaders have drawn comparisons between Brown's death and that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was later acquitted of murder charges.
"Instead of celebrating his future, they are having to plan his funeral," said Benjamin Crump, a family attorney who also represented Martin's relatives after he was slain in 2012 in Florida.
I don't want to sugarcoat it," Crump added. Brown "was executed in broad daylight."
Associated Press reporters Jim Salter, Jeff Roberson, Jim Suhr and David Lieb in Ferguson and Eric Tucker in Washington and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.