Public anger flared again in the St. Louis suburbs on Friday after police sought to clarify what happened in the moments before an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager last weekend. But that anger, sparked by claims the killed 18-year-old was a suspect in a robbery, did not spill over into violence as night fell over Ferguson Friday.
After days of refusing to release the name of the officer, the police chief identified him as Darren Wilson, a four-year veteran of the force in Ferguson, Missouri, and said that he was devastated.
The police also revealed that the teenager, Michael Brown, was suspected of stealing a box of cigars from a convenience store and assaulting a clerk minutes before he was shot to death.
But Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said later in the day that Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect when he stopped Brown and a friend. Asked why they were stopped, the chief said: "Because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic."
The release of a surveillance tape appearing to show Brown engaging in an altercation with the store clerk infuriated Brown's family, which said that the police were trying to smear the teenager's name and justify a "brutal assassination" in broad daylight.
A lawyer for the family, Anthony Gray, accused the police chief of inciting the community. If there is further violence, he said, "it won't be on anybody on this side."
"Don't take that bait and begin to riot," he said.
The family said in a statement: "There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender."
A day earlier, Ferguson had its first relatively calm night in almost a week. The Highway Patrol had taken command of policing, and officers marched down the streets with protesters. There were demonstrations Friday night but no reports of arrests that had marred protests earlier in the week.
People in Ferguson Friday questioned why police had waited so long to disclose the robbery, and they said there was still no explanation for why the officer shot and killed the teenager.
"It was no reason that he had to die like that," said Champayne Sims, who lives in St. Louis and came to Ferguson on Friday to protest. "Not at all. You can't justify executing an unarmed person."
She went on: "These police officers are supposed to protect and serve, and they're not. They're killing people just because they got a gun and a badge."
Another woman in Ferguson, Lalita Paine, told NBC News that public fury would not subside "until they prosecute the police officer that actually murdered Mike Brown. And it probably won't go away then."
Jackson, the police chief, described Wilson as "a gentle, quiet man" and a distinguished officer with six years' experience in policing and no prior disciplinary record. He called Wilson "an excellent officer."
"It's devastating, absolutely devastating," the police chief said. "He never intended for any of this to happen."
The chief was peppered at an afternoon press conference with questions about why police decided to release the tape of the robbery when the officer who shot had no idea that Brown was a suspect.
"What I did was release the videotape to you because I had to," he said. "I've been sitting on it, but too many people put in an FOI request for that, and I had to release it." He was referring to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Sharply different accounts of the shooting have been given previously by police and by Brown's friend, Dorian Johnson.
Police have said that one of the men pushed the officer into his patrol car and that there was a struggle over the officer's gun. They have said that Brown ran and the officer fired multiple times.
Johnson, however, told MSNBC that the officer ordered him and Brown off the sidewalk. He said that the officer grabbed Brown by the neck, pointed the gun at him and said, "I'll shoot." He also said that the officer fired shots after Brown turned with his hands up and said, "I don't have a gun, stop shooting!"
Earlier in the week, as anger grew about Brown's killing, looters smashed windows and stole goods from stores in Ferguson, and a different convenience store was torched. Protesters chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!"
On Wednesday, the police response included officers in military-style gear sitting atop armored vehicles and training guns on protesters. Police threw tear gas into crowds of demonstrators and arrested two reporters.
By Thursday, President Barack Obama weighed in, encouraging calm among both the protesters and the police, and Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Highway Patrol to take over security.
The man in charge for the Highway Patrol, Capt. Ron Johnson, spoke glowingly on Friday of how things had calmed down because of simple communication between law enforcement and the public.
At his own press conference, members of the public asked Johnson how they could trust the police again. One identified himself as a black father who wondered what he could tell his son after Brown's killing.
Another woman demanded: "If we cannot trust our police officers, who can we trust? Who can we trust?"
Johnson, who is black and grew up in the area, pledged to keep listening and try to improve policing. He cautioned against further violence.
"In our anger, we have to make sure that we don't burn down our own house," he said. "What I don't want is us to go down there, burn our own neighborhood. That does not prove a point. That does not solve an issue. That hurts this community."
First published August 15 2014, 2:56 PM