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Ferguson Shooting Sparks National Outrage

The shooting of a teenager by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb leads to unrest and unanswered questions.

Ferguson Protest

Protestors in Ferguson, Mo.

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On Aug. 9, 2014, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old teenager in Ferguson, Mo. Details of the shooting have been under dispute since the incident. Police said that Brown was shot during an altercation with the officer. However, a friend who was with Brown at the time said that the officer shot Brown when he refused to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk and that Brown's hands were over his head at the moment of the shooting.

The following night, after a candlelight vigil for Brown, protesters filled the streets near the shooting. Police officers arrived on the scene with riot gear, including rifles and shields. The protest turned violent and images from cell phones went viral on social media, including several accounts of looting. The next day, the F.B.I. began a civil rights investigation in the shooting while protests continued in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.

Only Selective Information Released

On Aug. 12, the Ferguson police chief, Thomas Jackson, announced that the name of the police officer involved in the shooting would not be released, citing concerns for the officer's safety. During the announcement, Jackson said, "The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family." The refusal to reveal the name of the officer along with the selective information released about the shooting fueled another day and night of protests. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protestors. Arrests were made at the scene, including The Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly and Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post. Both were released later without an explanation.

While vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, President Obama held a press conference and criticized Ferguson law enforcement for using "excessive force" during the protests. At his press conference, Obama asked Attorney General Eric Holder to "do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened and to see that justice is done."

Dueling Press Conferences

During a news conference on Aug. 15, 2014, police identified the officer involved in the shooting as Darren Wilson, who has been with the Ferguson Police Department for four years and has no disciplinary charges. Wilson, a white officer, has been placed on leave and his location remained unknown. However, tensions flared when, in a simultaneous press conference, police released information, including a 19-page report, that Brown had been suspected of robbing a convenience store minutes before he was shot. Making matters worse, in a later news conference that afternoon, Police Chief Jackson said that Officer Wilson had not been aware that Brown was a suspect in the robbery at the time of the shooting.

Citing looting, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew from midnight to five a.m. in Ferguson on Saturday, Aug. 16. The announcement was met with more protests and arguments that it would only create more violence. The State Highway Patrol, which had been put in charge of public security in Ferguson after the incident, vowed to enforce the curfew not with tear gas, but by simply telling people that it's time to go home. However, at midnight, while many protestors dispersed because of the curfew, small groups stayed out on the street and chanted, "We are Mike Brown! We have the right to assemble peacefully!" Then, according to police, at least one bottle rocket was tossed by these small groups of protestors and shots were fired. As protestors continued to disperse, police officers said that they fired tear gas and smoke into the crowd in response to the gunfire. One protestor was wounded, while seven others were arrested.

Violence Continues Despite Curfews

As another week began, the tense situation in Ferguson showed no signs of dissipating. The curfew was extended for another night on Aug. 17, and violence erupted again. Attorney General Holder announced that because of the "extraordinary circumstances" in the case, the Justice Department would conduct its own autopsy of Brown. Meanwhile, the private autopsy preliminary results were released and showed that Brown had been shot at least six times, including twice in the head. After performing the private autopsy, Dr. Michael M. Baden said, "This information could have been released on day one."

On Aug. 18, Gov. Nixon lifted the curfew and deployed the National Guard to assist the police. However, the presence of the National Guard failed to quell the unrest. That night at least two people were shot and dozens arrested as bottles and Molotov cocktails were thrown from the crowd. Heavy gunfire at some officers was also reported. Police responded with tear gas, flash grenades, noisemakers and armored vehicles.

—Jennie Wood

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