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Family of slain Missouri teen calls for calm after protest violence

August 12, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
For a second night, protests boiled over into violence in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager on Saturday. In a statement, President Obama said pain over the killing should be expressed in a way “that heals, not in a way that wounds.” For a closer look at the unrest, Judy Woodruff talks to Jim Salter of the Associated Press.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Three days after a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager outside Saint Louis, President Obama weighed in, as tensions continue to flare between police and crowds demanding answers.

For a second night, protests boiled over into violence in Ferguson, Missouri. Police said they fired tear gas and beanbag rounds after some in the crowd started throwing rocks. At least five people were arrested, making a total of 50 since Saturday, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a policeman.

Brown’s family and civil rights leaders appealed for calm again today.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, Lawyer for victim’s family: This family, none of these individuals, not Michael Brown Sr., nor Lesley, the mother and the father, have asked for anybody to be disrespectful, to be irresponsible, to be violent, to do anything at all. We have not asked anybody to do anything like that. So, it is very important to them and their name and their respect and their child that we make sure we call for calm and we call for everybody to be responsible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in a statement, President Obama acknowledged strong passions over the killing, but he said they should be expressed in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

Demonstrators did stage another peaceful march and rally in Ferguson, a city with a largely black population and a mostly white police force. But there was little new information on the shooting investigation. The police chief said today he won’t publicly identify the officer involved, for now, because of death threats. The FBI is also investigating the incident for possible civil rights violations.

For more now, we are joined by Jim Salter of the Associated Press. He’s in Saint Louis.

Jim Salter, we just reported on what happened last night. What about today? What happened in the aftermath of that?

JIM SALTER, Associated Press: So far today, things have been pretty quiet, Judy.

There have been some peaceful protests in Ferguson, but nothing — nothing dangerous has broken out, although the previous two days the violence has occurred after nightfall, so police are certainly on high alert anticipating what might happen tonight. We can probably expect roadblocks on the main thoroughfare of West Florissant.

We can expect a huge police presence in that area. And, certainly, they will be moving as quickly as they can to keep people off the streets, to keep them from congregating in large crowds and to urge them to stay home and to avoid any violent activity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we just reported — on that point, we just reported on President Obama’s statement. It came out late this afternoon from the White House saying the death was heartbreaking, calling on people to remember Michael Brown. He said talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

Have you talked with anyone either in his family or in the community to see what the reaction is?

JIM SALTER: We haven’t talked to people about the reaction to the president’s comments, but certainly the president is echoing things that both community activists and folks like the Reverend Al Sharpton have said, that it’s dishonoring this young man to loot stores, to create violence, to burn buildings. The best way to honor him would be peaceful protests, to effect change in a peaceful way and not to be creating this violent activity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what are people in the community saying today, now that we’re a few days past this shooting? What kinds of reactions are you hearing from people who live there?

JIM SALTER: One thing that people are saying is that they want — they want justice to move quickly.

And that could be problematic, as you can imagine. These sorts of investigations take a lot of time. Police are using eyewitness testimony. They’re reaching out to anybody who might have a cell phone video, and there are certainly a lot of different reports of what people said they saw that vary from what police have said was the official, you know, report from the officer.

So it’s going to take a lot of time. There’s going to be toxicology tests and ballistics tests. And people are going to have to be patient. It could be several weeks before we know exactly a little closer to what happened there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the police are being pretty visible in the way they’re investigating this?

JIM SALTER: They’re trying to be very visible.

In fact, the Ferguson department almost immediately turned the investigation over to the Saint Louis County Police. And the FBI has also involved — has joined the investigation, a separate investigation. So they’re trying to be as transparent and as open as possible, but they are also urging that they’re going to have to move cautiously and they’re going to be as thorough and as diligent as they have to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you say, Jim Salter, the forces are for calm right now in the community, and what would be the forces that are — or folks who are still angry and not accepting the explanations of the police force?

JIM SALTER: You’re right. Those are two very competing forces.

It was exemplified Sunday night. There was a candlelight vigil at the site where Michael was shot involving several thousand people crowded under a very narrow street, and it was very peaceful, with people lighting candles, and teddy bears, and other remembrances of Michael, and then a couple of blocks away, people were burning down a QuikTrip convenience store and looting several stores up and down that street.

Certainly, some people have used this as an opportunity to commit crimes. The vast majority of people, though, are heartbroken by what’s happened in Ferguson. And the leadership of the community, the comments from the president, are all urging that this — that people try to take a step back and try to take a peaceful look at this.

There are two community meetings tonight both along that line to try to urge caution and peace. And we will see how long that holds once the sun goes down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just finally, quickly, how does this fit into the history, recent history of racial relations in the Ferguson community over the last several years?

JIM SALTER: Well, Ferguson is a near suburb to Saint Louis. It was once a mostly white, middle-class suburb. As urban sprawl has occurred, it became a mostly black community, with — about 67 percent of the community is black.

There is racial tension there, as there is in much of north Saint Louis County. But most of Ferguson is actually a middle-class community, and there are pockets of poverty. And it’s those pockets of poverty where — are the biggest concerns. That’s where a lot of the police incidents happen, and those are the areas where the outbreaks have occurred.

So it’s a community that has certainly been changing over the years and we will see how that continues to change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Salter with the Associated Press reporting for us from Saint Louis, we thank you.

JIM SALTER: Thank you.