Facing death threats, police withhold identity of Michael Brown shooter

Police in Ferguson, Mo., citing threats on social media, decided against releasing the identity of the officer who shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, on Saturday.

Jeff Roberson/AP
Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday in Ferguson, Mo. The FBI opened an investigation Monday into the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after being confronted by an officer in Ferguson.

Amid ongoing demonstrations, police in Ferguson, Mo., announced Tuesday that they would not release the name of the officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in the racially divided suburb of St. Louis, citing concerns for the policeman’s safety.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson had previously said the department would disclose on Tuesday the name of the officer, who was placed on administrative leave following the altercation with Michael Brown, 18. But authorities changed tack after local police received death threats via social media.

“The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family,” Mr. Jackson said at a press conference on Tuesday. “If we come out and say, ‘It was this officer,’ then he immediately becomes a target.”

That decision sparked harsh and immediate criticism from community leaders and representatives of Mr. Brown’s family, who emphasized that the law has “got to work both ways.”

“That doesn’t give the community confidence,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Brown’s family, while flanked by several African-American leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. “That doesn’t make it transparent.”

This latest episode adds yet another layer of controversy to a tumultuous four-day stretch in the St. Louis area, which started on Saturday when witnesses say a white police officer repeatedly shot Brown, who allegedly had his hands up in the air, as if to surrender.

What started as a peaceful demonstration on Sunday erupted into widespread looting and violent riots, as hooligans burned dozens of stores near the area’s West Florissant Avenue, prompting a heavy police presence and leading to at least 32 arrests and two injuries among officers.

That evening, protesters smashed police cars and television vans, fired at police helicopters, and faced off against several armed merchants defending their storefronts.

Though the violence tapered off for the first time on Monday by about 3:30 a.m. local time, protesters recongregated later that day near the site of a burned out convenience store, facing off with police who launched beanbag projectiles and arrested at least another 15 demonstrators.

Amid the chaos, community figures and NAACP leaders implored residents to refrain from violence and, instead, peacefully channel their frustration.

“To sneak around under the cover of darkness, to steal, to burn down your neighborhood – this does not require courage,” NAACP president Cornell Brooks said at a public forum on Monday. “Courage is when you strive for justice.”

On Tuesday, demonstrators again organized, this time nonviolently, outside the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office in Clayton, Mo. There, about 150 people waved flags and raised their hands above their hands, shouting, “Don’t shoot!” – a common refrain among protesters during the previous two days, who were apparently simulating Brown during his altercation with Ferguson police.

Ferguson, where the initial shooting incident took place, is the scene of intense tension between its black civilian majority and its disproportionately white police department – a tension exacerbated by rapid "white flight" in the past decade.

According to a 2013 report by the Missouri attorney general’s office, police in Ferguson stopped and arrested black drivers almost twice as often as white drivers, but were less likely to find contraband among blacks.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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