Thomas Jackson, the police chief of Ferguson, Mo., apologized Thursday to the parents of Michael Brown more than six weeks after the black teenager was killed by a white police officer in a shooting that ignited protests and sometimes violent clashes with authorities in the small St. Louis suburb.
Jackson’s videotaped remarks came as Brown’s parents held a Washington news conference calling for the Justice Department to take over the investigation of the shooting and minutes before news broke that U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. planned to resign. Holder has been a pivotal figure in the controversy.
The confluence of events marked a dramatic day in the ongoing case in which Ferguson anxiously awaits a grand jury’s decision on whether Officer Darren Wilson will be indicted. The tensions in the city have not eased, and as recently as this week, scores of protesters again faced off with authorities.
Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, was shot after he and a friend encountered Wilson, who ordered the two to stop walking in the middle of the street and move onto a sidewalk. Brown was shot at least six times, according to the county’s medical examiner. After the shooting, Brown’s body lay in the street for more than four hours as his mother cried behind a yellow police line.
“I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son,” said Jackson, who wears a salmon-colored shirt in the video and stands in front of an American flag. “I’m also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street,” Jackson continued as he read from a statement in the taped video that appeared Thursday morning on CNN. “The time it took involved very important work on the part of investigators who were trying to collect evidence. . . . Please know the officers meant no disrespect to the Brown family, the African American community or the people of Canfield. They were just trying to do their jobs.”
At the news conference at the National Press Club, Brown’s parents — who appeared with the family of Eric Garner, another man killed by police — did not have an immediate comment regarding Jackson’s statement. Their attorney Benjamin Crump said neither he nor the parents had seen the video.
Later Thursday, another family attorney, Anthony Gray, said in an interview, “We feel that the apology comes at a time when the trust and the confidence in the chief has already reached an all-time and irreversible low.”
“Dynamite, much less an apology, will do little to move anyone off their opinions at this point,” he said, speaking generally of those outraged by the shooting.
At the news conference, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, held her head down as the Rev. Al Sharpton recalled how her son died not far from his grandmother’s home.
“I’m here in Washington to ask for help in getting justice for my son in Missouri,” McSpadden told a dozen reporters.
Michael Brown Sr. said: “I’m here to try to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s family. This is very terrible for us and for everyone else that has lost. We are here to get justice. We need your help.”
Sharpton called on the Justice Department to take over the criminal investigation into the death of Brown as well as the death of Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island man who was killed July 17 when a New York City police officer placed him in an illegal choke hold.
Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, told reporters, “It’s time we got justice for these heinous crimes committed against our loved ones. To lose a child is unbearable, but the way we lost our children. . . . At the time they were killed, the sentence wasn’t death for selling cigarettes. For the children walking in the street . . . We are here now to ask for justice. We need it now.”
Garner, whose death was captured on video, was killed after allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Brown’s shooting occurred Aug. 9. Both deaths prompted widespread protests, but it was those nearly two weeks of demonstrations immediately after Brown’s shooting that drew heavy national and international attention this summer, partly because of the sometimes violent encounters with police who appeared to some like a militarized force.
The tensions in Missouri flared this week when protesters took to Ferguson streets after a memorial near the spot where Brown was killed was destroyed by fire. And Wednesday night, Justice Department officials met with community members as part of their probe into policing practices. After the shooting, the agency launched a probe into whether residents’ civil rights are being violated.
Holder’s visit to Ferguson in August helped ease the unrest.
Of Holder’s impending resignation, Sharpton said, “There is no attorney general who has demonstrated a civil rights record equal to Eric Holder.”
Marc Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League, said of Jackson’s apology: “Our fight is for justice for Michael Brown, not just to get an apology.”
In Ferguson and the St. Louis metro area, the apology, which also addressed protesters, reaction was mixed by degrees of frustration.
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, involved in the protests, said, “The chief’s apology today, while needed, should have been accompanied by a letter of resignation. His credibility is beyond repair.”
“What [people] are most angry about 47 days after the incident is no one has been fired. No one has been arrested. Many of us have been arrested. . . . People want real action, not just words.”
Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Missouri state senator, and Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman of Ferguson Township, offered similar observations.
“I think it was a good first step,” Bynes said. But “don’t think we will let the police chief completely off the hook. What has been missing . . . was some glimpse of humanity, some sympathy — and that has made the community angry.”
Chappelle-Nadal said too many mistakes have been made. “My constituents, the many I’ve talked to, are not accepting the apology.”
Jackson said through a communications firm hired by the department that his apology was personal and why he appeared without his uniform.
Protesters were at the Ferguson police station Thursday evening demanding he resign.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, who critics perceive as biased, said in an earlier interview that he expects the grand jury to reach a decision in late October or early November.
“There are some people regardless of the outcome who will not be happy,” he said.
Kimberly Kindy, Sarah Larimer and Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.