THE Governor of Missouri has criticised police in the town of Ferguson for their "over-militarised" response to protests following the death last week of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by a white officer.
Jay Nixon, a Democrat, told ABC News he was "thunderstruck" by the images emerging from the St Louis suburb. "The over-militarisation… The guns pointed at kids in the street. All of that I think instead of ratcheting down, brought emotion up," he said.
His comments came on Sunday morning as a man was in critical condition at a Ferguson hospital, having being shot overnight when protests over Mr Brown's killing again descended into violence. Officers used smoke bombs, tear gas and wooden rounds to clear the streets on Saturday night, after Mr Nixon had declared a state of emergency in the hope of ending the unrest.
Police said a crowd of about 150 people defied a curfew imposed in the city between midnight and 5am, despite the pleas of some community activists who urged them to go home. Most were soon put off by heavy rain, and there was no repeat of the looting on Friday night, but seven people were arrested for failure to disperse. The unnamed shooting victim, who was not shot by police, was taken to hospital by bystanders.
Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the black officer who has become the public face of the law enforcement response, said police moved in only after reports of a break-in at a local restaurant. "I was disappointed in the actions of tonight," Capt Johnson told reporters yesterday. "We have a shooting victim in critical condition… We had a subject standing in the middle of the road with a handgun. We had a police car shot at." He added: "I think that was a proper response tonight, to maintain officer safety and public safety."
Mr Brown was shot dead on 9 August by an officer later named as Darren Wilson. The details of the incident are disputed: police said Mr Brown reached for the officer's gun during an altercation inside a police car; witnesses insisted Mr Brown had his hands up when he was shot. The killing stoked anger in a community that is about two-thirds black, but patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force. Public disquiet escalated when largely peaceful protests were met by officers in riot gear firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Following four nights of clashes, the mood had cooled on Thursday as Mr Nixon turned over responsibility for security in the city from the local police to the State Highway Patrol, led by Capt Johnson, a former Ferguson resident.
But tensions flared again on Friday when local police issued a statement saying Mr Brown had been a suspect in a "strong-arm" robbery at a local convenience store. The authorities also released CCTV footage of the robbery, leading to accusations that they were trying to smear the victim. Mr Nixon criticised the release of the video, saying it "appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street."
Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson later admitted at a news conference that Mr Wilson was not aware that Mr Brown was a suspect at the time of the shooting, and had in fact approached the teenager because "he was walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic". The officer's identity had been withheld for almost a week after the shooting despite widespread calls for transparency.
As he announced the curfew at a news conference on Saturday, Mr Nixon said: "The eyes of the world are watching. This is a test of whether a community, this community, any community, can break the cycle of fear, distrust and violence and replace them with peace, strength and ultimately justice… We cannot allow the ill will of the few to undermine the good will of the many."
President Barack Obama has asked the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate Mr Brown's death. Forty FBI agents reportedly went door-to-door at the weekend to collect information on the shooting.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.