Ferguson (United States) (AFP) - The top US law enforcement official will visit Wednesday the Missouri town where a white policeman killed a black teen, sparking days of often violent protests and nationwide debate on how officers treat minorities.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who is himself black, will oversee the federal response to the August 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, a day after the latest protest proceeded largely peacefully but ultimately degenerated as tension rose and police made 47 arrests.
Holder is to visit the St. Louis suburb amid an ongoing federal investigation into possible civil rights violations in Brown's shooting death.
Also Wednesday a grand jury will begin hearing witnesses to Brown's killing, with widespread calls for the police officer, Darren Wilson, to be put on trial for murder.
Brown's remains are undergoing three separate autopsies -- by local authorities, the family and Holder's Justice Department.
In an oped column in the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper Wednesday, Holder pledged what he called a full, fair and independent investigation.
"And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil rights leaders and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding — and robust action — aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law enforcement officials and the communities we serve," he wrote.
- Guns seized, urine thrown -
In Tuesday's protest three guns were seized and protesters threw glass and plastic bottles of water and urine at police towards the end of the demo, prompting officers to intervene and make the arrests, said Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Johnson stressed that unlike a violent protest Monday night, this time protesters did not fire guns at police and officers refrained from using tear gas to break up the rally.
"Tonight we saw a different dynamic," he said.
He attributed this to a concerted effort by community leaders, activists and clergy to keep the rally peaceful and prevent it from being taken over by what he described as violent "agitators".
Fears that the fatal police shooting of a knife-wielding black man in St. Louis itself on Tuesday might renew tensions failed to materialize, after successive nights of clashes with police in Ferguson.
"Hands up, don't shoot!" protesters chanted, holding their hands in the air in what has become the signature slogan of Ferguson's frustration with its overwhelmingly white police department.
Meanwhile Brown's family was preparing for his funeral, which their lawyer said would take place on Monday.
In contrast to previous nights, rather than firing tear gas head-on into the crowd, police with riot shields and armored vehicles kept a lower profile.
They finally intervened around midnight, pushing the remaining crowd towards a newly designated public assembly area in a former car dealership.
Mingling with citizens at the outset of the march, Johnson -- who is charged with restoring order in this mainly black town of 21,000 -- denounced what he called "criminal elements" who, after dark on Sunday and Monday, had ignored police orders to disperse.
"Cowards hide in the dark, and it's time for that to stop," he told reporters.
Earlier Tuesday, in St. Louis a few miles (kilometers) away, officers shot dead an agitated man who yelled "kill me now" as he rushed at them with a knife during an apparent convenience store robbery.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police 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."
- Brown family seeks murder charge -
Police have identified the white police officer who shot Brown in broad daylight on a residential street as Darren Wilson, 28, in the force for six years.
Brown's family wants Wilson -- who reportedly has been granted leave from his duties -- charged with murder for "executing" their son.
Police contend that Brown was rushing at the officer, but other witnesses say the teenager -- who was about to start vocational college -- had his hands up, ready to surrender.
Brown was fatally shot less than half an hour after the theft of a box of cigars from a liquor store. Police named Brown on Friday as the suspect in that case, taking local anger to a new level.
A forensic pathologist retained by Brown's family said that the teen was shot at least six times -- twice in the head.
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."
But their role so far has been limited to guarding a command post in a shopping center away from the nightly protests.