Ferguson mayor resists calls to resign
14 March 2015, 13:06
Ferguson - The mayor of Ferguson rejected growing calls on Friday
to resign in the aftermath of a blistering US government report into the fatal
police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
Mayor James Knowles struck a defiant tone in a flurry of
interviews with US news media as St Louis County police kept up the search for
the gunman who wounded two officers amid an otherwise peaceful demonstration on
"Right now, this community needs leadership,"
Knowles, a white Republican in his early 30s who was re-elected mayor by
acclamation four months before Brown was shot and killed on 9 August, told NBC
He said he enjoys "continued support from a lot of
residents" in his St Louis suburb of 21 000. Two-thirds of the population
is African-American, but the city government and police force are predominantly
"This community needs someone who is going to stay
around and work toward bringing us together, moving us forward. And I've
committed to doing that. And so has the rest of the city council."
On CNN, Knowles - a Ferguson native and one-time civilian
employee of its police force - said that if citizens really want him to go, a
recall process exists for ousting disliked elected officials.
"There are ways to remove me if that is the will of the
people," he told the all-news network, one of many in the United States
giving saturation coverage to the story.
Tension has gripped Ferguson since 9 August, when local
police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Brown, a suspect in a
petty corner-store shoplifting, after an altercation on a residential street.
Sometimes violent protests ensued, as Brown's death - and
the failure by a grand jury to indict Wilson - ignited a heated national debate
about race relations, law enforcement and excessive use of police force.
In the aftermath of a scathing Justice Department report
last week that exposed racial bias in his department, Ferguson's embattled
police chief Thomas Jackson submitted his resignation on Wednesday.
Back on edge
That night, however, Ferguson was back on a knife edge when
shots rang out in the dark amid an otherwise peaceful march outside the local
police station, wounding two officers - one in the face, the other on the
St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, now in charge of
policing Ferguson's nightly protests, who initially called the shootings an
"ambush," said Friday that detectives working "around the
clock" were chasing several leads.
"I cannot tell you at this point that an arrest is
imminent. There is certainly nobody in custody," he told reporters, nearly
48 hours after the bullets flew.
It was the first time that any police officer had been hit
by gunfire during a Brown-related protest, in a Midwestern state that has some
of the most relaxed gun laws in the United States.
President Barack Obama, appearing on a late-night TV talk
show, said people had a right to be angry about Brown's death, but added there
was no excuse for "criminal acts."
Protest organisers say the shooter, or shooters, did not
come from their ranks. But in the absence of a swift arrest, some African-Americans
wondered Friday - with no hard evidence to back their speculation - if the
gunfire might have been the sinister work of disgruntled white agitators.
On Thursday, a SWAT team stormed a house up a hill from the
police station, taking away three people for questioning. They had been seen
fleeing amid the shooting, but told police they had merely been scared for
Belmar said Friday he appreciated the trio's cooperation,
explaining that the raid had been preceded by "several leads" that
had come in regarding the nondescript brown brick bungalow.
He added: "The detectives are looking into this
investigation around the clock. They will not rest until we get to the point of
where we have a conclusion regarding this investigation."
On National Public Radio, mayor Knowles said the prevailing
mood Ferguson remains tense: "Officers are concerned for their safety.
Residents are concerned for their own safety right now."
Steady rain kept away protesters Friday night, but forecasts
of balmy spring weather lifted the prospect of fresh demonstrations over the