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Police Shooting Death Of Teen In Missouri Stokes Racial Tension


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. We'll learn more now about a town that's in the headlines in the worst possible way. Ferguson, Missouri, is the scene of protests after an unarmed black teenager was killed by local police. Steve Giegerich of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been reporting from that town outside St. Louis.

STEVE GIEGERICH: It is an urban-suburban. It was primarily a white suburb up till about 10 or 15 years ago, and then white flight took place. White residents moved further West. Right now, it's a city of 21,000 people, two-thirds of whom are African-American.

INSKEEP: What kind of relations have existed between the community and the police?

GIEGERICH: The situation has been fraught for a number of years. I've talked to between 30 and 40 residents of Ferguson in the last three days. Every one of them has a story of being pulled over, driving while black, shopping while black, being harassed as they walked down the street. I mean, it's a commonplace story. The relationship between the police department and the residents of Ferguson is just fraught with tension.

INSKEEP: Have the police said anything about that?

GIEGERICH: They have not addressed it. Yesterday, we finally pieced together what the breakdown is as far as the number of officers on the Ferguson Police Department. There's 52 officers altogether and only three are African-American.

INSKEEP: So two-thirds African-American population, less than 10 percent African-American on the police force?

GIEGERICH: Far less than 10 percent, yeah.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Steve Giegerich with the backdrop for Saturday's shooting.

GREENE: And now there is another shooting, according to the Post-Dispatch. Police critically wounded another man last night. In this case, unlike the case on Saturday, police say the man pulled a handgun. The shooting is said to be in an area where protests have continued. NPR's David Schaper has been watching the demonstrations.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The early evening skies could not have been more clear, but the tension on the streets of Ferguson hung in the air like a thick fog. Dozens of angry protesters gathered in front of the crumpled and blackened shell of a QuikTrip convenience store that rioters torched Sunday night, a day after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown during a confrontation. Police have suggested that Brown and the officer were struggling for the officer's weapon, but at least two witnesses have told news outlets that Brown was raising his hands as if to surrender as the officer fired several bullets into him. Like other similar incidents elsewhere around the country, this shooting has touched a raw racial nerve here in the St. Louis area.

RASHAWN PETERSON: This is crazy. This is an outrage.

SCHAPER: This is 31-year-old Rashawn Peterson of St. Louis, who is among those protesting the shooting.

PETERSON: Our people are tired. Our people are upset. Our people are so done with this mess and we're not going to tolerate this anymore.

SCHAPER: The protesters taunted the police, shouting, hands up - don't shoot. But then St. Louis County police officers in riot gear and armored vehicles moved in to try to head off another night of violence and unrest. Protesters eventually moved on, gathering outside of a nearby church where religious and civil leaders held a community forum. They preach the need for nonviolent protest and so did the shooting victim's father, Michael Brown Sr., on the steps of the historic courthouse, downtown St. Louis, earlier in the day.

MICHAEL BROWN SR.: I need all of us to come together and do this right, the right way, the right way so we can get something done about this. No violence.

SCHAPER: Standing next to Michael Brown's father and mother, the Reverend Al Sharpton called for local officials to step back and let the FBI and other federal investigators take over.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON: The local authorities have put themselves in a position - hiding names, not being transparent - where people will not trust anything but an objective investigation.

SCHAPER: Ferguson police have still not released the name of the officer who shot the 18-year-old, citing death threats.

GOVERNOR JAY NIXON: We stand together tonight reeling from what feels like an old wound that has been torn open afresh.

SCHAPER: Missouri's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, speaking at the second of two packed community forums at local churches last night, called for reconciliation and for healing to begin. And he also urged all to have patience during the investigative process.

NIXON: While remaining uncompromising in our expectation that justice must not be simply pursued, but in fact achieved.

SCHAPER: With the eyes of the country now focused on Ferguson, even President Obama is weighing in, urging in a statement for the nation to remember the young man through reflection and understanding and finding comfort in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

David Schaper. NPR News, St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.