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Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson falls quiet as race campaigners rally across the US

Tensions ease after responsibility for security handed from local to state police
  • @timwalker

A tentative calm took hold in Ferguson, Missouri on Thursday night, as police in the St Louis suburb shed their riot gear to walk alongside demonstrators after a week of violent clashes. Hundreds of campaigners took to the streets there and in cities across the US in remembrance of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot dead by a Ferguson police officer last Saturday.

The peaceful protests came after four straight nights in which heavily armed officers had fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators, leading to widespread condemnation of their aggressive tactics and calls for the demilitarisation of police in the US.

On Thursday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon turned over responsibility for security in Ferguson from the local police to the State Highway Patrol, led by Captain Ronald Johnson, who is both black and a former Ferguson resident. Johnson told demonstrators on the street that they could remain there peacefully for as long as they wanted, and that his officers were there to “protect the safety of the community”.

Johnson told the Washington Post he was troubled by the breakdown in relations between police and residents. “When I see a young lady cry because of fear of this uniform, that’s a problem,” he said. “We’ve got to solve that.”

Capt. Ronald Johnson walks among demonstrators last night

Thousands attended vigils and protests on Brown’s behalf in New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta. The details of the 18-year-old’s death remain disputed. Ferguson police have so far declined to name the officer involved, but insist there was a struggle which left him with facial injuries. Other witnesses said Brown had his arms raised when the officer shot him multiple times.

Video: Police and protesters clash

The incident has inflamed existing racial tensions in a town with an overwhelmingly African-American community, but where only three of 53 police officers are black.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama appealed for “peace and calm” in Ferguson following the unrest. Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he is on holiday, the President condemned the looting and violence reportedly directed at police, but said there was “no excuse” for the excessive force used by law enforcement.

Mike-Brown.jpgHe also urged the police to be “open and transparent” about the facts of Brown’s shooting.