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An Eyewitness Account From The Michael Brown Shooting Protests

By Lisa White in News on Aug 11, 2014 10:10PM

In one of the latest cases of possible excessive force and police brutality in America, the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri Saturday, lead to poor handling from local officials that ended the evening with a rash of violence after a day of peaceful protest Sunday.

If you aren’t aware of the full details, on Saturday Brown and another individual were walking in the street around noon. According to police officials, the Ferguson police officer encountered the two men, and when the officer tried to exit his vehicle, the 18-year-old male pushed the officer back into the cruiser, where the suspect allegedly assaulted the officer while the two struggled over his gun. At least one shot was fired inside the vehicle before the officer allegedly fired multiple shots outside the vehicle, killing the suspect. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar stated “I Can’t say how many times the suspect was struck by gunfire. It was more than just a couple, but I don’t think it was many more than that.” Police have confirmed the suspect was unarmed.

With little details given, the community decided to reassemble the next morning for a press conference to find out more information. But what protesters encountered upon arrival set a combative tone from local law enforcement. Ashley Bernaugh, a local resident who lives 15 minutes away from the neighborhood, came out to pay her respect and learn more information. She spoke to Chicagoist about the situation her and others encountered upon arrival:

“We were told we would be allowed entry, we were told it was in one building, we walked over there, we found out it was in a different building, we walked over there and we were physically blocked. We asked for entry, we were denied entry. No one came and addressed us. Some of the news reporters wouldn’t even come down because the police had put up barricades, like we were dangerous, and that was not the case. We were peacefully assembled with posters, with friends and family, people that live in that community and wanted entry into the press conference. There wouldn’t had been a protest if they just would had let us into the press conference.”

Bernaugh pointed out that "people were angry, but rightfully so because no information was being released to the public at that time and there was a dead kid laying on their street.” In video footage provided, Bernaugh and other protesters were met by groups of officers and police dogs. Bernaugh noted that the police officer in the video is from at least “45 minutes away” and when she questioned the officer as to why he and other outside law enforcement were there, she is given no answer and told to back up.

“They really hindered the ability for people to have peaceful protest and legitimate discourse,” Bernaugh added. When I asked her about the situation later that night at the candlelit vigil, if it had improved, she described her own experience while attempting to pay her respects:

“Before the candlelight vigil Sunday night, There is only one street in and out and they blocked that access. So people that wanted to come and peacefully pay their respects were basically told oh, it’s a danger zone. Literally a cop told me when I tried to cross a barricade “don’t go down there, you’re going to get shot.” They shouted taunts, they had an extreme police presences, it was aggressive. It’s like they wanted what happened to happen. It became an occupation as soon as this young man died. ”

Bernaugh eventually was able to find information from the officer on where to park, and walked on foot to the vigil. “At no point in time did I feel like I was going to be hurt by anyone there protesting peacefully or even rioting, honestly,” she adds. “They weren’t wanting to harm people, I think it was a show of anger.”

Overall Bernaugh described a community hurt and mourning, simply wanting answers. Yes, there was some violence but given the heightened emotions, the lack of information provided to the community and the strong show of police presences, Bernaugh didn’t sound surprised that the night ended the way it did. But Bernaugh echoes a sentiment that many officials and those in the community overall seem to want as the end goal; justice. “Just a fair investigation. Should it be found somehow this was fair and just, so be it. But we need to know that the transparency level is there. And this is why people are so angry. This incident is not isolated in the minds of the community. This is just the icing on the cake.”

It has been announced earlier this afternoon that the FBI will be conducting a separate federal review that focuses on whether Brown’s civil rights were violated. After our conversation, Bernaugh sent me some final thoughts on what she saw yesterday in her community:

"Police should be equipped to handle community disputes with sensitivity and respect, instead local citizens were met with a police force primed and ready for occupation of the community. Moreover, a community distraught with grief over what was witnessed the day before was supposed to be equipped to handle the broad array of emotions they felt and those of their fellow citizens, without any sort of training or experience in the process. Ferguson police and St. Louis County police refused the opportunity to mend bridges, they ratcheted up their police presence to overwhelm the citizens of Ferguson and the members of the community that joined them. Today they look justified in doing so from the outside. We the people that live with a militarized police presence in our communities, we know better than that."