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Peaceful evening march in violence-shaken Ferguson

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Published : 2014-08-20 12:00
Updated : 2014-08-20 12:00

Protesters hit the streets of the US town roiled by days of unrest over the killing of an unarmed black teen, hours after police shot dead a knife-wielding man just a few miles away.

Demonstrators waved signs and chanted slogans as they strolled up and down West Florissant Boulevard in Ferguson, Missouri. The town, a suburb of St.

Louis, has been shaken by racial unrest since a white police officer shot dead Michael Brown, 18, on August 9.

Police have hurled tear gas canisters and fired rubber bullets at crowds as protests get violent after sundown. But in this early evening march, everything was peaceful.

"I want the good people to have the ability to voice their opinions," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the African-American officer tasked with restoring order in the restive town.

Johnson, who mingled with citizens in the march -- all to keen to give him an ear-load about the right to protest -- denounced what he called "criminal elements" who, after dark on Sunday and Monday, ignored police orders to disperse.

"Cowards hide in the dark, and it's time for that to stop," he told reporters. Ferguson civic leaders had called for "night-time quiet and reconciliation" after another night of protests and violence in the majority black town.

The evening marchers were mainly black, with a good number of whites also demonstrating. Some people brought along young children, who nibbled pizza slices distributed by volunteers.

Many chanted: "We are/ Mike Brown."

One incident that could fuel nighttime violence took place a short drive away in St. Louis proper, where police -- criticized for aggressively responding to demonstrations -- shot dead an agitated man who yelled "kill me now" as he approached police wielding a knife during an apparent convenience store robbery.

Onlookers gathered at the yellow incident tape sealing off the scene of Tuesday's shooting outside the store, some chanting the slogan of the protests: "Hands up, don't shoot."

Captain Ed Kuntz told reporters at the scene that an investigation had been launched, but, based on what he had heard, "it seems reasonable to say it was justifiable." 

"Whenever there's a police shooting, tensions are always more high," he admitted, while insisting: "Right now we are focused on preserving life and protecting property."

Earlier in the day the Brown family attorney, Benjamin Crump, announced on Twitter that Michael Brown's funeral would take place on Monday. The message was retweeted nearly 300 times in less than hour, reflecting the intense interest in the shooting.

Police identified the white police officer who shot  Brown ead in broad daylight on a residential street as Darren Wilson, 28.

Brown's family wants Wilson charged with murder for "executing" their son.

A grand jury is to consider the case on Wednesday, with Attorney General Eric Holder scheduled to visit the city amid an ongoing federal civil rights investigation.

Although police also fingered Brown as a robbery suspect, he was unarmed and some witnesses have said he was surrendering when he was gunned down.

A forensic pathologist retained by Brown's family said that the teen was shot at least six times -- twice in the head.

Three separate autopsies of Brown's remains are taking place -- by local authorities, by the family and by the Justice Department.

Federal law enforcement officials said that the military medical examiner who conducted the federal autopsy also concluded that Brown had six gunshot wounds, The Los Angeles Times reported, citing an unnamed government source.

Overnight Monday to Tuesday in Ferguson protesters shot at police and threw rocks and firebombs in a new spasm of violence that left six wounded and led to 31 arrests.

Police responded with tear gas to disperse the crowd of about 200, Johnson said.

US National Guard troops have been deployed to Ferguson to help control the unrest, amid criticism of the distrusted local force's handling of the protests, with even President Barack Obama saying there was no excuse for local police to use "excessive force."

He urged Missouri to make only "limited" use of the National Guard, which is operating under police supervision.

Ferguson residents accuse the mostly white police force of frequent abuses.

Allen Frazier, an African American, 27, is losing count how many times he says he has been stopped by the police.

"In Ferguson, they're always flagging me down out of nowhere, getting me out of the car, checking me," Frazier told AFP as he returned -- on a bicycle -- to the boulevard that hosts daily protests and nightly stand-offs with police.

"I'm just fed up with it."

Obama warned of a "gulf of mistrust" between residents and police in many cities across America, particularly in those where racial minorities feel excluded from opportunities for a better life.

"To a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other," he said. (AFP)

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