Fresh protests, looting shatter brief calm in US suburb

Joshua Lott

Ferguson (United States) (AFP) - Riot police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters early Saturday as anger boiled over once more in the Missouri suburb where an officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager a week ago.

The renewed unrest came hours after police said Michael Brown, 18, had been the suspect in a robbery at a convenience store in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, minutes before a policeman shot him dead.

Police also named the white officer involved in the shooting in the majority black area, but after a calm Thursday night, the announcements served only to ratchet up tensions again, with people targeting shops, reportedly including the one where Brown carried out the alleged robbery on August 9.

Three stores were looted in the fresh disturbances that also saw Molotov cocktails lobbed at police, CNN said from Ferguson, but there were also reports that locals, some armed, had stepped in to stop shops being ransacked.

Police -- who have been accused of a heavy-handed response -- retaliated with tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber bullets, but they mostly stayed at a distance in armored vehicles and riot gear, news reports said.

"If you're getting conflicting reports, it's because there's chaos here. It's dead in some areas, crazy in others.#Ferguson," wrote BuzzFeed reporter Joel Anderson on Twitter.

- 'Execution-style murder' -

Brown's death at the hands of an overwhelmingly white police force has renewed a national debate about relations between law enforcement and African Americans.

His family appealed for calm but after police said Friday he was the suspect in a robbery and released CCTV footage of it, the family accused authorities of a "devious" attempt to smear the character of their son, who had no criminal record and was about to start vocational college.

"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 lawyer for the family said.

Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson, 28, a white, four-year veteran of the force with no disciplinary record.

But muddying the waters, Jackson said: "Initial contact between the officer and Mr Brown was not related to the robbery."

Wilson -- in a patrol car -- stopped Brown "because he was walking down the street, stopping traffic. That was it," Jackson said.

Wilson's home in a mostly white town some 18 miles (30 kilometers) from Ferguson has been under police protection, but neighbors told The Washington Post that the officer got "spooked and took off pretty quickly before the name was announced."

- Governor to visit -

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has drafted in state police to take over from local police and placed Ron Johnson, an African-American officer, in charge.

The move that brought calm on Thursday -- but it turned out to be only a temporary respite.

"Long night. Thanks to all who tried to stop unnecessary violence. I will be in Ferguson today," Nixon said on Twitter on Saturday, as St Louis County police and the FBI continue to conduct parallel investigations into the fatal shooting.

The renewed anger appeared to stem from the police announcement alleging Brown was involved in a robbery.

"I think they're covering up a lot of things," said one woman, interviewed on CNN, who did not want to give her name. "They're covering up for this officer... Why wasn't this said in the beginning?"

FBI agents, working with attorneys from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and US Attorney's Office, have interviewed witnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting, officials said.

In the coming days, FBI agents will "be canvassing the neighborhood where the shooting took place to identify any individuals who may have information related to the shooting," a Justice Department statement said.

There have been only tentative signs of the protests spreading to other areas of the United States.

Demonstrators sprayed graffiti and broke windows as they marched late Friday in Oakland, California. Riot police came out in force, according to news reports, but were restrained in their response, and there were only minor clashes.

Several hundred people, mostly young and African Americans, protested in New York late Thursday.