FERGUSON, Mo. — Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Ferguson on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said as he repeated a call for calm in the troubled community.
“Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other,” Obama said at the White House.
He decried a “gulf of mistrust” between residents and police that exists in “too many communities.”
Obama also said the amount of military-style equipment that local police forces have been receiving from the federal government needs to be reviewed. Numerous state and federal officials have said that the amount and scale of military-style equipment that the police in Ferguson displayed on the street in the first days of unrest there worsened the situation.
The U.S. has always maintained a line between its police and military, Obama said, and “we don’t want those lines blurred.”
The effort to expand the sort of equipment available to police forces, which was stepped up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was well-intentioned, Obama said. But “it’s probably useful for us to review” the government’s law enforcement aid programs now to see what local police departments are buying and “to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need.”
Obama said the Justice Department would carefully monitor events in Ferguson and the use of Missouri National Guard units to patrol the city, beset by unrest since the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, by a white police officer. The use of the National Guard should be “limited and appropriate,” Obama said, noting that the decision to use the military units had been made by state officials.
It’s important to ensure that “peaceful protesters” have an opportunity to air their grievances, Obama said. At the same time, he said, law enforcement officers need to be able to protect communities against people who are using the unrest as an excuse for looting or violence.
Ferguson will not be under curfew Monday night, but authorities may shut down some streets as the National Guard steps in to help keep order, Gov. Jay Nixon announced — a change that left some residents and civic leaders uneasy.
A midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew was in effect Saturday and Sunday nights as officials sought to quell unrest after Brown’s death. But each night, demonstrators refused to honor the curfew, violence arose, and police used tear gas to disperse the crowds. At least two people were shot Sunday night, and police were fired upon.
Police said there were signs of a planned and coordinated attempt Sunday night to disrupt the St. Louis suburb and launch an advance on the police command post not far from the scene of Brown’s death.
Nixon issued an executive order Monday to bring in the National Guard. Its “limited mission” will be to protect the command post so local law enforcement officials can protect peaceful demonstrators, he said in a statement. He condemned “the firing upon law enforcement officers, the shooting of a civilian, the throwing of Molotov cocktails, looting and a coordinated attempt to overrun the unified Command Center.”
Community and civic leaders who have been in Ferguson for the recent demonstrations told reporters Monday that they were worried about another challenging night.
“We don’t want a repeat of last night,” said Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, who is based in St. Louis County. “We want to ask people at sunset to go home…. We’re going to tell them it’s a different dynamic out there with the National Guard, and we don’t want them to get hurt.”
Malik Shabazz, a former New Black Panthers leader who has been working in Ferguson trying to keep demonstrations peaceful, said he thought the National Guard would exacerbate the situation.
“We have a tough job tonight,” he said, adding that he didn’t want peaceful demonstrations “overshadowed by agents and provocateurs.”
On Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue, Toriano Johnson, a barber at Prime Time Barbershop, said the curfew backfired.
“You’re trying to shut people up. That’s not going to work,” he said. “They’ll go around the corner, but they won’t go away. You can move them around, but it’s still going to be a movement until justice is served.”
Johnson’s business partner Richard Evans, 37, agreed that the curfew failed, and he was not optimistic about the National Guard’s involvement.
“People are getting pushed around and told what to do with no solid answers,” Evans said. He said that’s the wrong approach when people are clamoring for more information about the investigation.
Also on Monday, Dr. Michael Baden, a renowned New York forensic pathologist who performed a preliminary autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family, said his examination suggests that there was no sign of a struggle in Brown’s death and that all but one of at least six gunshot wounds in his body were likely survivable. Baden said in his preliminary autopsy that he believes Brown would not have been able to survive the bullet that hit at the top of his head and traveled through his brain.
Appearing Monday before reporters in the sanctuary of the Greater St. Mark Family Church in St. Louis, Baden and three of the family’s attorneys went through the diagram of Brown’s wounds that was released with the autopsy.
Attorney Benjamin Crump said the family asked for the independent autopsy because of uncertainty at the time over whether federal officials would conduct their own examination of Brown’s body. “They did not want to be left having to rely on the autopsy done by the St. Louis law enforcement agencies, the same individuals they feel are responsible for executing their son in broad daylight,” Crump said.
“It answers just the basic questions,” Crump said, “the number of shots, which was always a question that not only the family had, but the citizens of Ferguson and people all over the country.”
Crump said Baden’s work so far is a “very preliminary” report. “We have to get all the witness statements out and look at all the autopsies, all the evidence, to put this picture together,” he said.
Police have said Brown was shot after confronting Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson inside his police car. But at least one witness who was with Brown that afternoon has said Brown was shot as he walked away from the officer with his hands raised, then was struck by additional bullets.
Two of the gunshot wounds were graze wounds, Baden said Monday, and two may have been re-entry wounds.
Baden said he performed the autopsy at a local funeral home after Brown’s body had been embalmed, so he was unable to collect blood samples for toxicology screening — something that was done during the initial autopsy by the St. Louis County medical examiner.
The forensic expert said he is awaiting the results of that screening, which could take several weeks. He also plans to review Brown’s clothing and X-rays taken of Brown’s body before the initial autopsy was performed.
Baden also said there were abrasions on the right side of Brown’s face, which he believes occurred when Brown was struck in the head with a bullet and fell to the ground. But to have a better sense of whether a struggle ensued shortly before Brown’s death, he said, it will be important to examine the officer who shot him.
Baden’s report suggested that Brown was shot from a distance of at least one to two feet, but he said he needs access to Brown’s clothing before he can make a more definitive determination.
An uneasy calm settled over the St Louis suburb’s business district early Monday morning, and school district officials postponed the start of classes for a second time, in the wake of unrest Sunday night in which police were pelted with bottles and Molotov cocktails and looters rampaged through businesses.
“Due to continuing unrest in some areas of Ferguson, and in the interest of the safety of students and families, all schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District will be closed Monday,” the school district announced. Officials said they have concerns about children walking to school or waiting for buses on streets affected by rioting.
West Florissant, an area at the center of dramatic clashes with police Sunday night, was quiet Monday morning, with only a few residents moving up and down the sidewalks.
After a small crowd of demonstrators gathered at a burned-down QuikTrip market, a cluster of police officers fanned through the business’ closed-off parking lot, saying, “Keep moving.”
“It feels like communism or socialism more than anything — total domination for total peace or whatever,” said Ferguson resident Jarrett Johnson, standing on the sidewalk of a bridge next to the QuikTrip.
“We’ve been threatened with violence for standing around,” interjected a woman who walked away from a cluster of police standing outside a barbecue restaurant that has been a gathering point for curfew-breakers in recent nights.
Outside the Ferguson police station, embattled Police Chief Tom Jackson brought doughnuts and soda to a small group of demonstrators Monday morning, promising that “justice will prevail,” demonstrators said.
One demonstrator, who declined to be named or further interviewed, told the Los Angeles Times he thought it was “wrong,” but another, Francis Mays, 63, said, “God love his heart.”
“There’s good and bad in everyone, and I expect some good will come from this,” said Mays, who lives in St. Louis and has a daughter in Florissant.
The police show of force on West Florissant Avenue has not quite extended to the police station about a mile or two away. Mays said that Jackson came out last night to inform demonstrators that violence had broken out on West Florissant. The chief offered to escort them home if they wanted or needed aid, he said.
On Sunday night, “there were shootings, vandalism and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous but premeditated criminal acts,” Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson told reporters early Monday.
“The catalyst was not civil disobedience, but pre-planned agitation,” he said.
At one point, a McDonald’s restaurant that has been near the center of the street agitation in recent days was overrun by unruly protesters, forcing employees to lock themselves in a storage room, Johnson said.
Not far away, police fired tear gas at a large crowd as protesters swept toward the main police command post, hurtling bottles and bottle rockets, he said. Authorities received reports of at least two people shot during the evening, though police were not involved in either incident. The extent of their injuries was not known.
“Based on these conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response,” Johnson said.
“We are planning additional steps to quiet the violence. We are all determined to restore peace and safety to the people of Ferguson, and I believe the continued resolve of the good people of this community will ultimately triumph over the few people bent on violence and destruction,” he said.
The new street eruptions came as the private autopsy revealed that Brown had been shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
Anthony Gray, an attorney for the Brown family, said a diagram provided by Baden revealed details of the bullets that struck Brown’s body.
The fact that one of the shots struck the top of Brown’s head, Gray said, was significant.
“To have a shot that’s at a 90-degree angle from the top of his skull to the bottom of his chin, almost vertical, that sounds like an officer standing over him,” Gray said.
Baden said his examination suggested that none of the six bullets was fired at point-blank range.
“There’s no evidence of powder residue,” Baden said.
Baden said two bullets struck Brown in the head: one in the forehead and one at the top of the head — fired at “a right angle to the top of the head.”
“The top of the head one was the one that would have made him unconscious and fall to the ground,” Baden said.
But it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from that, he said, without also considering witness statements and marks on Brown’s clothing. “The head is very movable, and it can be in a number of positions,” he said.
At least one of the wounds to Brown’s arm “could have been defensive,” Baden said.
Police say Brown had participated in a strong-arm robbery at a mini-mart shortly before his encounter with Wilson.
Wilson, police said, was confronted by Brown inside his police car in a scuffle that led to the shooting.