FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — A few thousand people crammed a suburban St. Louis street Sunday night at a vigil for an unarmed black man shot and killed by a police officer, while afterward several car windows were smashed and stores were looted as people carried away armloads of goods.
The candlelight gathering was for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after a scuffle involving the officer and two people in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of the city.
At the vigil, people placed candles, flowers and a teddy bear at the location where Brown was killed. One group broke off to spray paint “R.I.P. Michael” on the street.
Afterward, an Associated Press reporter saw some people looting a convenience store. Several other stores along a main road near the shooting scene were broken into and looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store.
People were seen carrying armloads of goods such as bags of food and toilet paper. TV footage showed streams of people walking out of a liquor store carrying bottles of alcohol, and in some cases protesters were standing atop police cars or taunting officers who stood stoic, often in riot gear.
Other witnesses reported seeing people vandalize police cars and kick in windows. Television footage showed windows busted out of a TV station van.
“Right now, the small group of people are creating a huge mess,” Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles, told St. Louis KTVI-TV. “Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. … We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors. There’s nothing productive from this.”
As the investigation of Brown’s death progresses, “we understand people want to vent their frustrations. We understand they want to speak out,” Knowles added. “We’re going to obviously try to urge calm.”
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said there were no reports of injuries but confirmed widespread property damage. “Right now I’m just worried about people, not property,” he said.
County Police Chief Jon Belmar had said the shooting occurred after an officer encountered two people – one of whom was Brown – on the street near an apartment complex in Ferguson.
Belmar said one of the men pushed the officer back into his squad car and a struggle began. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer’s gun inside the police car. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who struggled with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn’t known, but “it was more than just a couple.” He also said all shell casings found at the scene matched the officer’s gun. Police are still investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged. Authorities aren’t sure if that person was unarmed, Jackson said.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said he had graduated from high school and was about to enter a local college. She said she doesn’t understand why police didn’t subdue her son with a club or Taser, and she said the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said Sunday at the site of the shooting, fighting back tears.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr. had said at the vigil that he appreciated the outpouring of support.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
The Rev. Al Sharpton called the shooting “very disturbing” and said he planned to go to Ferguson to meet with the family.
A few hundred protesters had gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters earlier Sunday. At one point, many of them marched into an adjacent police building, some chanting “Don’t shoot me” while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn’t use force; the crowd eventually left.
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation. Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed attorneys in the civil rights division to monitor developments.
The race of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed. He has been with the Ferguson Police Department for six years, Belmar said, and has been placed on paid administrative leave.