FERGUSON, Missouri (CNN) — Ferguson police will not release the name of the officer who shot a teenager in the St. Louis suburb because of threats made to another officer who was falsely accused on social media of being the shooter, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Tuesday.
The department had said Monday that it would release the name, the same day federal civil rights investigators and the FBI opened an inquiry into the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed Saturday.
Witnesses say the teen was unarmed and his hands were in the air demonstrating that. Police have said that Brown attacked the officer in his car and tried take his gun.
At a news conference, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Brown’s family, blasted the department’s decision to withhold the name. He was flanked by numerous African-American leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. Brown’s father also stood behind Crump.
“That doesn’t give the community confidence. That doesn’t make it transparent,” Crump shouted, adding that if law enforcement is going to ask residents of Ferguson to obey the law, “then it’s got to work both ways.”
A vigil for the teen devolved into violent clashes with police Sunday as some looted stores. On Monday night, there was chaos again on the streets of the suburb of 21,000, which is predominantly black. Shots were fired, authorities said, and police used tear gas to disperse a crowd.
Sharpton stepped to the microphones Tuesday and urged that people in Ferguson not “betray the gentle giant” that Brown was by allowing their anger over his killing to lead to violence. “Don’t be a traitor to Michael Brown in the name of ‘you mad,’ ” Sharpton said, reminding that Brown’s parents are planning a funeral for their son, whom they had expected to head to college this week.
When it came time for Michael Brown Sr. to talk, he bowed his head and his voice was far less thunderous than Crump’s or Sharpton’s. “I need justice for my son,” he said.
Do the “right thing,” he added, saying that he understood that people had their “different pains” and “losses, too.” But refrain from acting out aggressively and protest peacefully, he urged.
U.S. President Barack Obama echoed calls for calm, releasing a statement expressing condolences to the teen’s family and describing his death as heartbreaking.
“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions. But as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama said. “We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
College-bound teen sought a better life
Brown was going to defy negative stereotypes, eschewing the street life that plagued many African-American young men by instead going to college, his mother said.
“People may do things and it becomes repetitive in a certain race, but we didn’t. We don’t live like that. Not our family,” his mother, Lesley McSpadden, told CNN.
“We feel like we can do anything and go anywhere. … Just because my son is a 6’4″ black male walking down a city street does not mean he fit the profile for anything other than just walking down the street.”
About 63% of Ferguson residents over age 16 are African-American. But according to racial profiling data from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, 86% of traffic stops involve African-American drivers.
Exactly what led up to Brown’s death Saturday is a point of major contention.
One side says the teen was surrendering, his hands in the air to show he was unarmed, when the officer fatally shot him. The slain teenager and a friend were “accused of stealing gum from the store or some sort of cigarettes,” St. Louis Alderman Antonio French said.
Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson told CNN affiliate KTVI that he and Brown were walking in the middle of a street, and the officer drove alongside them and told them to use the sidewalk.
The two told the officer they were only a minute from their destination and they’d soon be out of the street.
The officer then drove for a moment and then reversed the car, “in a manner that almost hit us,” Johnson told CNN affiliate KMOV.
“We had no weapons on us at all,” he said.
The officer opened his car door into the friends and it swung back toward the officer, Johnson said, adding “I guess that got him a little upset. At that time, he reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around his neck.”
Johnson said “he was trying to choke my friend,” adding that the officer tried to pull Brown into the squad car.
There was an exchange of words, witness Piaget Crenshaw told the station, and the officer left his vehicle and fired a shot. Both teens ran, Crenshaw said.
Johnson told KTVI he hid behind a car, but Brown stopped after a second shot was fired. Brown held up his hands to show he wasn’t armed, Johnson and Crenshaw said, and the officer shot him twice.
The officer “shot again, and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air,” Johnson told KMOV. “He started to get down and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
“He ran for his life, they shot him and he fell,” Crenshaw told KTVI. “He put his arms up to let them know he was compliant and he was unarmed, and they shot him twice more and he fell to the ground and died.”
But authorities say Brown had attacked the officer in his car and tried to take his gun.
“The genesis of this was a physical confrontation,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said. His department has been called in to conduct an independent investigation.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the shooting “deserves a fulsome review” by federal investigators.
“At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right,” he said.
Shot two days before starting college
McSpadden said her son was supposed to start college Monday.
“He was so excited to be setting an example for his younger siblings,” she said.
But “we can’t even celebrate. We’ve got to plan a funeral.”
McSpadden chastised the officer who she says cut a promising life short.
“You took my son away from me! You know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many!” she shouted into a television reporter’s microphone.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., said he just wants justice and “to get this resolved in the right manner.”
“I will be a little calmer,” the father said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever have peace.”
CNN’s Holly Yan, Ashley Fantz and Catherine E. Shoichet wrote in Atlanta; George Howell reported from Missouri. CNN’s Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, Julian Cummings, Don Lemon, Wolf Blitzer, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.
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