Demonstrators were orderly for a second straight evening on
Thursday, the calmest night in the St. Louis suburb since
18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by a white police officer
on Aug. 9 under disputed circumstances.
Even as scores of boisterous but peaceful protesters returned to the
streets, Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr., urged them during a CNN
interview "to go back to your regular life."
He expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support but criticized
thugs and outside agitators who police have blamed for much of the
lawlessness that accompanied earlier protests.
"This looting, all this other stuff ... it's not helping our boy.
It's doing nothing but causing more pain, plus it's shaming his
name," Brown's father said. "Go back home to your family ... Hug
your kids. Hold onto them tight. Keep them close."
Ferguson erupted in anger after the teenager's slaying, with nightly
rallies frequently punctuated by looting, vandalism and clashes
between protesters and heavily armed riot police, often ending in
volleys of tear gas and dozens of arrests.
The turmoil has cast the community of 21,000 people into the
international spotlight as an emblem of often-troubled U.S. race
Although Ferguson is predominantly African American, its political
leadership, police department and public school administration are
dominated by whites. Civil rights activists say Brown's death was
the culmination of years of police unfairly targeting blacks.
With civic leaders and clergy urging protesters in recent days to
maintain order and leave the streets after dark, crowds have grown
thinner in number and have become more subdued.
"I think we've turned a corner," said State Highway Patrol Captain
Ron Johnson, a black officer placed in command last week of a local
police force widely criticized for heavy-handed tactics that seemed
to be stoking civil unrest.
On Thursday night, Johnson and many of his officers mingled casually
among protesters. The police presence was generally more low key
than it had been since Brown was shot, but the night was not without
Police made a number of isolated arrests of people suspected of
instigating the earlier unrest, and tensions heightened briefly as
protesters clamored around arresting officers, before members of the
clergy members moved in to calm the crowd.
National Guard troops, who were deployed to Ferguson to assist
police at the height of disturbances but have kept a relatively low
profile during demonstrations, were ordered by Governor Jay Nixon to
begin pulling out of the community.
"We continue to see improvement," Nixon said in a statement.
REGAINING MOTHER'S TRUST
A day earlier, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson to
meet Brown's parents and other residents, and to review the status
of a federal civil rights investigation he has ordered into Brown's
Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, who viewed her son's body for the
first time on Wednesday at a local morgue shortly before meeting
Holder, said his assurances helped restore her faith that justice
could be done.
"Just hearing the words come directly from his mouth, face-to-face,
made me feel like, one day, I will," she told CNN on Thursday. "And
I'm not saying today, or yesterday, but one day, they will regain my
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Brown's parents and supporters have been calling for the immediate
arrest of Darren Wilson, 28, the police officer who shot their son.
Wilson has been placed on leave and has gone into seclusion.
A local grand jury met on Wednesday to begin hearing evidence in the
case, a process that St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob
McCulloch said could last into mid-October.
Brown's family and protesters are demanding that the probe be turned
over to a special prosecutor, saying McCulloch has a record of
discriminatory handling of cases involving police accused of
misconduct against blacks.
McCulloch, whose father was a police officer killed in the line of
duty by a black man, has promised a fair and impartial
investigation. State Senator Jamilah Nasheed arrived at McCulloch's
office on Thursday with petitions calling for his removal from the
"I am here to deliver a message to Bob McCulloch that the people do
not have any confidence in him," Nasheed said. "The people's opinion
is that he totally has no ability to do the right thing."
SIGNS OF EASING TENSION
Despite lingering expressions of anger and distrust, the atmosphere
in Ferguson appeared to be growing calmer.
"Things are de-escalating," said Roy Harris outside Original Reds
B-B-Q, located on West Florissant Avenue, where many of the protests
have taken place.
The restaurant has boarded up its windows, but written in large
letters in red paint on the plywood planks is the promise: "We will
be back." Workers were selling sandwiches in the parking lot next to
an outdoor meat smoker.
Only six people were arrested overnight between Wednesday and
Thursday, far fewer than the scores detained on previous nights. As
of Thursday afternoon, the total number of arrests since the uproar
began in Ferguson had climbed to just over 200, most for failing to
heed orders to disperse, police said.
Outside a fast-food restaurant blocks away from where Brown was
shot, a small group of young black men held a homemade wanted poster
"For us he is a wanted man. It is time for calm and peace but only
if they bring him to justice," said 23-year-old Dontey Carter,
shirtless with a scarf wrapped around his head.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in in Ferguson; Writing by
Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Beech, Eric Walsh, Paul Tait and Simon
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