Amid calls for calm after nights of protests and unrest, tensions remain high in a St. Louis suburb where an unarmed African-American teenager was fatally shot by a police officer.
Michael Brown Jr. was shot multiple times on Aug. 9 by a Ferguson police officer while walking down the center of a street with a friend to a nearby convenience store.
There are conflicting accounts of what happened.
Police have been vague about what led the officer to open fire, saying 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.
Brown had graduated on Aug. 1 from Normandy High School.
This week, he was supposed to start a technical college in pursuit of a career as a heating and air conditioning engineer.
Neighbors described Brown as quiet and respectful — a “good boy,” who “was never in trouble,” said neighbor Sharon Johnson.
Some civil rights leaders have drawn comparisons between Brown’s death and that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in 2010 by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was later acquitted of murder charges.
Brown’s family retained the same lawyer who had represented relatives of Martin.
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.
The Associated Press reported Dorian Johnson offered a similar account, telling KMOV-TV 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 he did not see a scuffle or the circumstances that preceded the first gunshot.
Ferguson police officials 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.
It is somewhat encouraging the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division have announced they were opening investigation of the killing.
While answers are sought about the circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s tragic death, community and civil rights leaders should remain vigilant until accountability and justice are served.
Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune