“He stopped the wrong one, bottom line,” yelled Tatinisha Wheeler, a nurse’s aide who was at the news conference.
A couple dozen protesters began marching around the charred gas station and in the street chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street during a routine patrol. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times, according to police.
Dorian Johnson has told media a different story. He said he and Brown were walking in the street when an officer ordered them onto the sidewalk, then grabbed his friend’s neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He said Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.
Tensions in Ferguson boiled over after a candlelight vigil Sunday night, as looters smashed and burned businesses in the neighborhood, where police have repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.
By Thursday, there was a dramatic shift in the atmosphere after Gov. Jay Nixon assigned protest oversight to Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black and grew up near Ferguson. He marched alongside protesters, along with other high-ranking brass from the Highway Patrol and the St. Louis County Police Department.
“We’re here to serve and protect,” Johnson said. “We’re not here to instill fear.”
The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell — the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.
“All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas,” Pedro Smith, who has participated in the nightly protests, said Thursday. “This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect.”
The more tolerant response came as President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time about the shooting — and the subsequent violence that shocked the nation and threatened to tear apart Ferguson.
Obama said there was “no excuse” for violence either against the police or by officers against peaceful protesters.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said federal investigators have interviewed witnesses to the shooting. After the press conference above, the man now in charge of operations in Ferguson, Missouri Highway Patrol captain Ronald Johnson said even if there were a robbery, the shooting is unrelated and the two should not be confused.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter and Jim Suhr in St. Louis, Eric Tucker in Washington and Hillel Italie in New York, and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner, also in New York, contributed to this report.
(Photos: Facebook, Associated Press)