FERGUSON ― The white policeman who shot dead an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has resigned, but it failed to deter angry protesters demanding justice and reform.
Darren Wilson left the force citing fears for the safety of local residents and fellow police officers, according to a letter published by local media Saturday. Wilson wrote in his letter that “it is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal.”
A grand jury decision on Monday not to charge Wilson in connection with the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown touched off days of sporadic violence in Ferguson as well as demonstrations in several major cities across the United States.
The decision revived long-standing questions about how police, especially white officers, interact with African Americans ― questions raised again after last week’s shooting in Cleveland of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Officer Darren Wilson (Yonhap)
“It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me,” the letter from the 28-year-old Wilson said.
Dozens of demonstrators again gathered outside Ferguson police station despite his decision to quit, with protesters setting fire to a U.S. flag and jeering at police officers.
One man, who gave his name as “Kenny,” said: “I’m mad as hell. Every night we’re going to be here.”
There was also a brief standoff outside a bar between demonstrators and riot police before organizers moved protesters along.
Earlier Saturday, a core group of about 100 marchers, many from other U.S. states, set out on a 192-kilometer “Journey for Justice,” heading from Ferguson ― a mainly black suburb ― to the Missouri state capital Jefferson City.
The marchers, organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are demanding the sacking of the Ferguson police chief, nationwide police reforms and an end to racial profiling.
“We will fight until hell freezes over, and then we will fight on the ice,” NAACP president Cornell William Brooks told supporters at Washington Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church before setting out.
“What we’re endeavoring to do here is seek justice for a grieving family as well as systemic, fundamental reform in terms of policing for an outraged community.
“When you have a 12-year-old child who is killed with a toy gun in his hand, there is something fundamentally wrong.”
Eugene Gillis, a trumpeter who plays at the nightly protests, said young protesters feel alienated and reject the older generation of activists molded by slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Most of these young people say these people are out here for photo ops and that’s what aggravates the issue,” Gillis told AFP.
Brooks, dressed in neat jeans and a sweater, prayed and fell to his knees in reflection at Brown’s memorial while surrounded by a media scrum.
Mobbed by TV cameras, he then led the march in one direction before turning around and heading back the opposite way, marching into West Florissant Avenue, where some of the worst looting and arson took place after Monday’s announcement that Wilson will not be charged.
Outside Ferguson, others rallied in Brown’s memory and called for change.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in and around the U.S. capital Washington, including some who laid on the ground for several minutes in a “die-in” at a shopping mall near the Pentagon.
The NAACP wants police to use body cameras, changes to the system of equipping police with military hardware, a promotion of diversity on the force and an end to the use of major force in cases involving minor offenses.
Adrian West, a technology trainer, waited nearly two hours for the marchers to show up late, potentially missing a memorial service for a friend killed in a fight.
But he still expressed support, hopeful that nationwide protests would yet bring change.
“I think this is enough to get the federal government’s attention, strong enough to make them listen, and it’s quite possible Darren Wilson could end up getting indicted by the federal government.”
A federal probe into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights is ongoing. (AFP)