In Ferguson Shooting's Tumultuous Wake, Leaders Call For Peace And Protest
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Tensions are still high in a St. Louis suburb after Saturday's fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police. The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has sparked outrage in the community of Ferguson, Missouri. Peaceful demonstrations by day have turned to looting and civil unrest at night. Today, Brown's family gathered with civil rights leaders at a packed courthouse news conference. NPR's David Schaper is at the old historic courthouse in downtown St. Louis, and he joins us now. Hello, David.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: What was said today, and what was the reaction?
SCHAPER: Well, you know, a lot of people in the African-American community both here, in St. Louis and from across the country - as this has attracted celebrity civil rights leaders and others to St. Louis - are saying, basically, here we go again - another African-American teenager or young, adult male shot and killed by police or other authorities - the latest in a series of similar events that we've seen all across the country. And it's becoming a point where many feel that the racist - that there are just too many racist attitudes towards young black men by people in authority across the country. The family is now being represented by Benjamin Crump who was the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin a few years ago. He didn't hold anything back in terms of how he characterized the shooting, calling it, essentially, an execution. He was joined by a host of other civil rights leaders including the Reverend Al Sharpton who first and foremost called for peace tonight. He talked about the family, what they've been going through and the fact that the shooting victim in this case, Michael Brown, was a peaceful individual himself, and would - it would be doing his reputation - his legacy harm if there was any more looting or violent sort of demonstrations in the night. But then he also called for a thorough, evenhanded investigation by outside authorities - federal investigators outside of this jurisdiction. And a lot of people still are really on edge by what's happened here and what may transpire yet.
SIEGEL: David, President Obama released a statement on this case today. What did he say?
SCHAPER: Well, the president weighed in by saying that - he called the death of Michael Brown heartbreaking and that he and his wife, Michelle, send deepest condolences to the family and the community. He talked about how the events of the last few days have prompted strong passions in the community here and, really, across the country. He's urging everyone to try to let cooler heads prevail. I'm paraphrasing there, but remember the young man through reflection and understanding, his statement says. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. And he also offered up his prayers for Michael Brown and his family.
SIEGEL: How would you describe the mood in St. Louis today?
SCHAPER: I'd describe it as pretty edgy. I think a lot of folks are just a little rattled by what's happened. In Ferguson, the small suburb where this happened, the shooting is a culmination of long-simmering tensions between young African-American residents and the police. Ferguson is a low to moderate income suburb of about 21,000 people. Two thirds of those residents are African-American, but they point out that only three of the community's 53 police officers are black. And that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. The police chief admits it's a problem and has been telling reporters he's been trying to recruit more African-American officers. A lot of the residents I talked to - and these are three young men, aged 21, 26 and 30 - talk about this not just being a problem in Ferguson itself, but more broadly around the St. Louis area. There's quite a bit of tension, and they feel like young African-American males are targeted by authorities, and that people feel uncomfortable around them and think that they're, just by nature of how they look, up to no good.
SIEGEL: You mentioned the exhortations to people to refrain from violence or looting. Looking toward tonight, how are police planning to try to avert more looting and rioting?
SCHAPER: Police are saying they're ready for the worst but hoping they don't need to use tear gas and shoot rubber bullets as they did last night, and they're calling for peaceful demonstrations. They want to let people speak their mind and speak their peace, but they want to do so in a peaceful way. And religious leaders coming forward and saying let's have a community forum and let's have a forum indoors, keep people off the streets and make our point peacefully.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Schaper speaking to us from St. Louis. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.