Michael Brown Protests: What To Know About Ferguson's Unrest

Unrest has continued to roil the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, despite various tactics by authorities to diffuse a crisis sparked by the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Calls among for the arrest of the officer who shot Brown have grown as protests continued for a tenth night.

Here's what else you need to know:

How did the chaos begin?
A candlelight vigil for Michael Brown ballooned to a riot on Sunday, Aug. 10, as looters were seen making off with food and alcohol from nearby stores. Some protestors stood on police cars and taunted officers in the first of several nights of unrest and violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

Protestors were enraged by the shooting of the unarmed man who, according to some witnesses, had his hands up in the air — a universal sign of surrender. Demonstrators around the country and on social media have turned the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture into a rallying cry amid the protests.

Police fought back with tear gas and rubber bullets, prompting questions over the intimidating presence of security forces armed with military-grade gear and equipment. The conflict has also brought attention to allegations of racial profiling in a community where 92.7 percent of those arrested in 2013 were black, when they make up 63 percent of the city's population, according to a report by the Missouri Attorney General's Office

The Ferguson Police Department has 53 officers, three of whom are black.

[NATL] Photos: Ferguson on Edge Ahead of Grand Jury Decision

Who was Michael Brown?
The teenager was on his way home from a convenience store on Aug. 9 with a friend when police officer Darren Wilson shot Brown multiple times. Brown had no criminal record, but it was later revealed that he was a suspect in a robbery allegedly committed before the shooting.

Brown graduated from Normandy High School in the spring and was two days away from starting college before he was gunned down. Teachers described him as a "gentle giant," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and friends said he was a quiet, funny guy who loved music and struggled to graduate.

He was in ROTC, he played football, and upon graduation on May 22, he told a friend that he was determined to build for himself a successful life. "He said he wasn't going to end up like some people on the streets," Hershel Johnson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He was going to get an education. He was going to make his life a whole lot better."

His funeral is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 25.

Who is Darren Wilson?
On Aug. 15, after a night of relative calm, police identified the shooter as Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old man who had patrolled the suburbs of St. Louis for six years, according to The Associated Press. On the same day Wilson's identity was made public, authorities released a surveillance video that implicated Brown in a convenience store robbery of nearly $50 worth of cigars moments before he was killed. The video's release fueled more protests, with police clashing with crowds as nighttime descended on Ferguson. Wilson's supporters have rallied in St. Louis, created Facebook pages and raised money for his family on GoFundMe.com.

Who are the major players?
The shooting has pit those who are calling for Wilson's arrest against Ferguson's security forces, which now include the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the National Guard. The FBI opened an investigation into Brown's death and President Barack Obama pleaded for peace after several nights of clashes between crowds and police. Some local protesters have blocked businesses to defend the community from looters. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to visit Ferguson Wednesday to meet with prosecutors and community leaders.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson and Rev. Al Sharpton are also leading  voices on the ground. Brown's parents Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. are being represented by Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney in the Trayvon Martin case.

What happened on the day of the shooting?
Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were walking home in the middle of the road on the 2900 block of Canfield Drive around noon on Aug. 9 when Officer Wilson approached the pair in a police car. The officer and the boys exchanged words, but after this the narratives split.

Johnson said Officer Wilson ordered the two to the sidewalk but the boys told him they were near their destination. The officer slammed on his brakes and stopped so that he was face-to-face with the teens. Wilson tried to open his door, but it hit Brown's body and ricocheted closed.

From his vehicle, Wilson grabbed Brown by the neck and shirt, verbally threatened to shoot the teen and fired his gun, according to Johnson. The two boys ran for cover, but the officer got out of his car, fired several more rounds and the lumbering, 6-foot-4 Brown slumped to the ground, according to Johnson.

Police say Brown and Wilson were involved in an altercation, where Brown pushed the officer back into his car and physically assaulted him. The two struggled over the officer's weapon and a shot was fired inside the police car. After the pair took off running, Wilson fired more shots. Brown was fatally shot when he lowered his arms and moved toward Wilson, law enforcement officials said. Wilson was taken to nearby hospital where was treated for a "swollen face," according to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.

What do the autopsies say?
An autopsy commissioned by Michael Brown’s family and one performed by the St. Louis County medical examiner found Brown was shot in the head and the chest. The expert who performed the family's autopsy said he was shot at least six times, and the final bullet that hit him -- in the head -- proved fatal. The reports prompted more calls for justice, with Brown's mother asking, what else is needed "to arrest the killer of my child." Attorney General Eric Holder commissioned a third, federal autopsy due to the "extraordinary circumstances involved in this case."

Who is in charge?
The Missouri Highway Patrol took over security in Ferguson on Aug. 14, with Capt. Ron Johnson, who grew up in the area, at the helm. After four nights of unrest with local police in charge, the mood among protestors became lighter and more festive within hours of the transition.

That soon changed after police paired the announcement of Wilson's identity with the release of the robbery video, which Brown's supporters called a "character assassination." Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Saturday declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew, which some protestors ignored.

On Monday, Aug. 18, Gov. Nixon lifted the curfew and enlisted the help of the National Guard to restore order. Authorities arrested at least 78 people overnight after police said they were fired on by "criminals." Of the 78, all but three people were arrested for refusing to disperse, according to records obtained by NBC News. At least 47 people were arrested the following night, though Johnson credited community elders and clergy with bringing a "different dynamic" to Tuesday's protests.

Could Wilson be charged with a crime?
It’s too soon to say. Prosecutors were expected to begin presenting preliminary evidence to a St. Louis County grand jury on Wednesday, Aug. 20, NBC News reported. The secret proceedings could take weeks. Nine of 12 members of the grand jury would have to agree on whether to indict Wilson. Brown's family has called for a special prosecutor to take over the case from County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch over his purported ties to police.

Contact Us