What you need to know about the death of an unarmed black teenager in Missouri

August 11, 2014

What happened in Missouri?

The basics: An unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed Saturday by a police officer in suburban St. Louis. People protested Saturday and Sunday, with large crowds of protesters and police facing off multiple times since the shooting. Some rioting and looting also broke out late Sunday night. The FBI has launched an investigation, but federal authorities will also monitor an investigation being carried out by local police.

Why and how was Michael Brown shot?

The circumstances surrounding the shooting appear to be somewhat unclear. Police said Saturday that the shooting followed an encounter involving a police officer, Brown and another person Saturday afternoon, but additional confirmed details are scarce.

Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County police, said that the episode began with “a physical confrontation.” Belmar did not explain what prompted the confrontation, but he said that the officer was pushed back into his squad car during the episode and that one shot was fired from the officer’s weapon inside the car. Brown was shot multiple times — “more than just a couple,” Belmar said — on the street nearby, and all shell casings matched the officer’s gun. It’s not known yet why the officer shot him, nor why lethal force was used.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney hired by Brown’s family, said at a news conference on Monday evening that witnesses have disputed the account offered by police, but he did not elaborate on what these witnesses said occurred. (Crump also represented Trayvon Martin’s family.)

What do we know about Michael Brown?

Brown was an 18-year-old who recently graduated from high school and had been set to start college on Monday.

His parents spoke briefly at a news conference on Monday night. Lesley McSpadden, his mother, was overcome with emotion several times.

“He was a good boy,” Michael Brown Sr. said. “He didn’t deserve none of this. None of it. We need justice for our son.”

He described his son as fun, silly and always ready to make you laugh.

“I just wish I could’ve been there to help him,” McSpadden said, shaking her head. Tears streamed down her face as their attorney discussed how that very day, Brown was supposed to start college at Vatterott College, a trade school.

Crump, their attorney, called on anyone with a video recording of Brown’s death to come forward so they can find out “exactly what happened,” he said. “Their baby was executed in broad daylight,” Crump said.

What do we know about the person who shot him?

All authorities have said is that it was an officer with the Ferguson Police Department. The officer, who has not been identified, has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Who is investigating the shooting?

The St. Louis County police are investigating the shooting at the request of the Ferguson Police Department. (Ferguson is a part of St. Louis County.) The police have promised to conduct a full investigation and said there is no conflict of interest, bias or favoritism involved because none of their officers were involved.

“We are sorry that a young man lost his life and ask all to give their condolences to the family along with their thoughts and prayers,” the county police said in a statement. “We are investigating this incident as we would any other shooting.”

The police said they are going to send the results of the investigation to the St. Louis County attorney’s office for a decision to be made regarding any criminal charges.

Attorney General Eric Holder has told attorneys in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division “to monitor developments relating to the shooting incident,” department spokeswoman Dena Iverson told The Washington Post.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation into the shooting, Cheryl Mimura, a spokeswoman for the FBI in St. Louis, confirmed on Monday. The FBI will also continue to monitor the county police investigation.

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday that the FBI would work with local authorities, who should “complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right.”

The day after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, demonstrators held a rally and vigil in Ferguson, Mo. Looting followed. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Can you tell me anything about Ferguson? 

Ferguson is a small, predominantly African American city just outside St. Louis. It  has about 21,000 residents, and a little more than two-thirds of the residents are black, according to the U.S. Census. (About 70 percent of St. Louis County’s 1 million residents are white.) The town was first formed in the 19th century as a railroad stop before becoming incorporated as a city in 1894.


(Google Maps)

What has the response been from people in Ferguson? A series of vigils and protests have followed Brown’s death. On Saturday, in the hours after Brown was killed, there was an immediate outcry from the community. Some people chanted “kill the police,” according to witnesses. While there were reports of additional shots being fired as dozens of police officers arrived at the scene, no other injuries were reported. The protest Saturday took a tense turn as the police flocked to the area with dogs: 

As the police left, the crowd cheered:

There were additional protests Sunday in front of the Ferguson police headquarters. Protests continued Monday morning, though reporters on the scene said things appeared to be relatively quiet:

Meanwhile, many people used the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown (warning: some of this content is graphic) to show how people in communities far from Ferguson were reacting to the shooting. Has there been any violence in the wake of Brown’s death? On Sunday night, following a candlelight vigil for Brown, some people took to the streets of Ferguson, smashing windows and looting stores. A convenience store was set on fire, while a group of men in a truck reportedly tried to load an ATM into the back.

David Carson, a photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, captured some images from the rioting:

The county police asked for help in responding to this scene, so police from the city of St. Louis as well as the Missouri Highway Patrol responded shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday. Police from the Metropolitan Police Department in the city of St. Louis left Ferguson a little before 3 a.m., with police commanders planning to meet Monday to figure out future plans, according to Police Chief Sam Dotson.

Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, told The Post that about 300 officers responded to the scene. He said that 32 people were arrested, while two officers sustained relatively minor injuries; the people who were arrested could face charges of assault, burglary and larceny. (Belmar said at a news conference on Monday that police received thousands of calls during this period.)

How have elected officials and groups in the area responded? 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) was one of several officials to call for an investigation. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R) both offered condolences and called for investigations. St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay has called for a full and open investigation, as has St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley.

Jamilah Nasheed, a Missouri state senator, called for the officer who killed Brown to be fired and indicted.

After the looting Sunday night, Nasheed again urged people to protest peacefully:

The Urban League of St. Louis expressed “its deepest and sincerest sympathy” to Brown’s family and also called for a thorough investigation. The St. Louis County branch of the NAACP has urged people to remain calm and said that it will be monitoring the investigation.

The National Bar Association said Monday it was calling for an investigation into Ferguson’s death as well as the death of Eric Garner, who died last month after a chokehold from New York City police officers.

This post has been updated and will continue to be updated. Last update: Monday at 6:34 p.m. 

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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