Rival rallies as peace returns to Ferguson

Loic Hofstedt
Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 23, 2014
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Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/Joe Raedle)

Ferguson (United States) (AFP) - Rival rallies -- demanding justice for the unarmed black teenager shot two weeks ago by a white police officer, and in support of that police officer -- brought people to the streets of a Missouri town Saturday.

But authorities in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where Brown was killed on August 9, reported the night was the most peaceful in two weeks of racially charged demonstrations -- some of them violent -- over the 18-year-old's death.

Michael Brown's funeral, set to take place Monday, is likely to be a focal point for more demonstrations by angry protesters demanding that Darren Wilson, the policeman who pulled the trigger, face justice.

There have been few signs, however, of the protests spreading broadly to other parts of the United States, though a rally took place in New York, and there were weekend "peace festivals" set for nearby St. Louis.

- Trayvon Martin parallels -

Parallels have been drawn between Brown and Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida in 2012.

His father Tracy was in Ferguson Saturday to address an event.

Protesters are also angry at the hardline police response to early demonstrations, with authorities using battle-grade hardware bought under federal programs from the US military.

President Barack Obama on Saturday ordered a review to determine "whether these programs are appropriate," whether training with the equipment is sufficient, and whether there is enough federal oversight of the gear's use.

But there has also been support here for Wilson, who has gone underground since shooting Brown at least six times.

"Until you know the facts, you have no idea the situation he's in," Beth Zeiner, an insurance reviewer wearing a blue t-shirt with an "Officer Darren Wilson" badge sewn on it, told AFP.

"His life is also destroyed. There are so many factors, but it has been one-sided from what we have seen."

She noted that many businesses had suffered greatly after days of looting, and may never be able to recover.

"It's time that we all try to work together instead of always putting a wedge into things with races," Zeiner said.

House cleaner Laura, who did not want to give her last name, also wore a t-shirt in support of Wilson.

"I don't think there is any possibility of a fair trial at this point, because basically, (the policeman) has been tried already by the media and by the public, and by people who have allowed their emotions to overrule any reason that they may have," she said.

"It's going to be ugly for a while, I believe... But if we don't stand up for our police officers, if we don't stand up for our rights, they will be trampled."

- Daily injustice -

Sandra Fifer, a middle-aged woman who has been protesting on the main thoroughfare of West Florissant Avenue this past week, said protesters feel African Americans are treated unequally.

"We're not allowed, if I played my loud music that I like, had a barbecue with a bunch of African Americans, they would tell us to break it up," she said.

"Why? What are we doing different than them?"

In Staten Island, a borough of New York City, thousands demonstrated to protest the death of a black man placed in a chokehold by police -- seen on an amateur video.

Eric Garner, 43, a father of six who was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes, was wrestled to the ground by several white police officers after resisting arrest on July 17.

Garner, who was obese and asthmatic and repeatedly complained he could not breathe, lost consciousness and was pronounced dead of a heart attack after being transferred to hospital.

"This is always happening in our community. Everyone has the right to feel safe," Tricia Mackmenbourgh, a mother of three sons, told AFP in New York.

"Ferguson, Staten Island, that's all tied in."