This is why people are angry in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown shooting

Police say 'an undertow [of racial unrest] has bubbled to the surface' - but they themselves are accused of behaving like a paramilitary force

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The Independent US

Angry protesters have gathered every night since the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday, with increasingly shocking images emerging that make a small suburb of St Louis, Missouri look more like Gaza or Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

A hard-working young man, Mr Brown graduated from Normandy High School on 1 August, some months after he posed with around 100 or so others in his senior class.

Described as a “gentle giant” with a “football tackle build”, he was in an alternative learning programme at school and was far from the first in his class to get his diploma.

In glowing tributes, his teachers said he’d “accomplished it” in the end, and was due to start at a local technical college on Monday, 11 August.

But two days before that he was killed, shot in an incident involving a police officer that has sparked widespread fury in what is rapidly descending towards a national crisis.

Lesley McSpadden, the mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown, wipes away tears as Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr., holds up a family picture of himself, his son, top left, and a young child during a news conference in Jennings

The anger in Missouri comes first and foremost from the fact that they have lost a member of the community, killed by those whose pledge it is “to protect and serve”.

The incident set off an immediate, spontaneous demonstration, and was initially called in to dispatchers at St Louis as a case requiring “crowd control”.

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Ferguson police officers try to calm down a crowd near the scene of Michael Brown's death

Though they have repeatedly called for only peaceful demonstrations, the Brown family have led protesters in their rage at what has happened.

Immediately after the incident, Desiree Harris said she was expecting Mr Brown, her grandson, to visit her that afternoon and discovered him dead after she heard a commotion outside her apartment complex.

“When I got up there, my grandson was lying on the pavement. I asked the police what happened. They didn't tell me nothing,” she said.

Michael Brown’s parents, Michael Brown Sr, left, and Lesley McSpadden, right, stand next to the Rev Al Sharpton in St Louis on Tuesday

The teenager's mother, Lesley McSpadden, told an acquaintance the shooting was “wrong and it was cold-hearted,” the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

And according to the newspaper, Mr Brown's stepfather, Louis Head, held a sign that read: “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”

Police surround and detain two people in a car in Ferguson

Two witnesses to the incident say that the teenager was shot while he had his hands in the air in submission. The first, Dorian Johnson, was walking with his friend Mr Brown when there was a row with a police officer in a car.

Johnson has said in media interviews that the officer wanted the pair to move over onto the pavement, a request they refused. He says his friend was not struggling with the officer and had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown outside Greater St. Marks Family Church

Tiffany Mitchell, another witness, told CNN she saw Mr Brown “tussling through the window” of the police car with the officer. She said a shot was fired through the window, and then Mr Brown backed away with his hands in the air.

“The cop continued to fire until he just dropped down to the ground and his face just smacks the concrete,” she said.

Protesters raise their hands in the 'don't shoot me' stance after being approached by police officers on Sunday

Many are angry now at what they see as a lack of police transparency over the shooting. Their account of what happened remains vague, describing simply a struggle over a gun in a police car.

They have also refused to reveal the name of the officer involved, saying that he will become a “target” following threats received online – particularly after a number of hacking attempts from the group Anonymous. The officer was placed on administrative leave following the incident.

Police take up position to control demonstrators who were protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

Perhaps what has angered people most since the shooting itself is the perceived disproportionate nature of the police response.

Images widely shared online show officers equipped with military-style fatigues, automatic rifles and using reinforced vehicles.

Since yesterday they have also deployed tear gas, smoke grenades and rubber bullets – but County Police Chief Jon Belmar insists his officers have acted with “an incredible amount of restraint” as they've been the targets of rocks, bottles and gunshots. He said two dozen patrol vehicles had been destroyed.

This has not been just a show of strength from the police, either. Around 10 people were arrested on Wednesday evening, including the highly-respected St Louis alderman Antonio French, who had been tweeting from the protests.

That same night two reporters, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan J Reilly of Huffington Post, were arrested when police shut down a McDonald’s restaurant from which they had been reporting.

Police detain a man in Ferguson, Missouri

In total, around 40 protesters have been arrested so far since Saturday.

“I've had enough of being pushed around because of the color of my skin. I'm sick of this police brutality,” said one protester, who gave only his first name, Terrell, 18. “I'm going to keep coming back here night after night until we get justice.”

The incident has highlighted the ongoing and serious issue of civil rights in the town, as well as across the rest of the US, and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson called improving race relations “the top priority right now”.

The numbers are again getting people angry. Around 70 per cent of the town’s 21,000-strong population are black. But on the police force of 53, just three officers are black.

Mr Jackson said the protests involved “an undertow [of racial unrest] that has bubbled to the surface”.

A protester throws back a smoke bomb while clashing with police in Ferguson

Some civil rights leaders have drawn comparisons between Mr Brown's death and that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by a Florida neighbourhood watch volunteer who was later acquitted of murder charges.

Meanwhile, police in California were investigating a separate incident of an officer fatally shooting an unarmed 25-year-old black man in Los Angeles.

Police stand watch during the demonstrations. These are not thought to be the officers referred to in the report below

With the scale of the protests having increased each night and Barack Obama now briefed on the Ferguson situation by the Attorney General Eric Holder, the fury is not expected to have abated before tonight.

There is also anger that the US President remains on holiday on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. Some feel his presence is what is needed to prevent the crisis deteriorating any further.