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26 Sep, 2014 16:16

Police chief's attempt to join Michael Brown march provokes new arrests, tensions in Ferguson

Tensions in Ferguson, Missouri erupted again late Thursday night when a scuffle broke out near the St. Louis suburb’s police chief, who decided to participate in a march for slain teen Michael Brown. At least four people were arrested.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson appeared outside police headquarters in civilian clothes to assure protesters calling for his resignation that there would be reforms following Brown’s death and the ensuing protests that took place. Brown was the unarmed black teenager fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a white man, on August 9.

"I'm sorry, and I said that from my heart," Jackson said, according to CNN, after joining the crowd gathered in front of the police department. "I had to get that off my chest. It's been sitting there for two months."

Jackson had issued a video earlier Thursday, apologizing to Brown’s family for "the loss of your son."

Protesters, though, fired back at the police chief.

"If you are not resigning tonight, go home," one man said through a bullhorn.

"What do you want me to do?" Jackson asked. "Talk to me."

Around 11 p.m. local time, Jackson opted to join a march with protesters, provoking the disapproving crowd. A fight broke out about 20 feet behind Jackson, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and police officers standing nearby in front of the building entered the fray. One person was arrested.

Later, at least three more people were arrested after another confrontation. One of the arrestees was Umar Lee, a freelance writer who has covered developments in Ferguson.

Screenshot from Raptly video

Jackson's apology video was mainly aimed at the Brown family. The police chief said he was especially sorry for the fact that Brown’s body was left in the streets for four hours before it was finally removed by officials. How the body was left fueled more anger from an already-incensed local population.

"I want to say this to the Brown family: No one who has not experienced the loss of a child can understand what you're feeling," he said in a video released by a public relations agency. "I am truly sorry for the loss of your son. I'm also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street.”

Jackson also lamented the way local police treated peaceful protesters in the days that ensued.

"The right of the people to peacefully assemble is what the police are here to protect," Jackson said. "If anyone who was peacefully exercising that right is upset and angry, I feel responsible, and I'm sorry."

The apology came 47 days after Brown was killed.

Brown’s parents were in Washington on Thursday, calling for a full federal investigation into their son’s death. The US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is conducting an investigation into whether Brown’s civil rights were violated.

Brown’s parents said during a press conference at the National Press Club that they had not seen Jackson’s video and would not comment on it. Their attorney said they would review it.

On Wednesday, investigators with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division hosted a meeting in Ferguson for about 300 residents to express concerns over police behavior. Many said after the meeting that they shared accounts of police abuse and harassment.

A state grand jury is currently considering whether criminal charges against Wilson are warranted. In the state of Missouri, the decision does not have to be unanimous to press an indictment, as long as nine out of the 12 jurors agree on the charge. The jury has until January 7 to decide on an indictment.

Wilson, who has been on leave since the shooting, has testified before the grand jury, the Post-Dispatch reported last week. Wilson shot Brown at least six times from the front, according to the medical examiner. There are conflicting eyewitness reports from residents and police. Authorities say Brown confronted Wilson in a threatening manner, but several witnesses have described Brown as holding up his arms in surrender during the incident.

Brown’s killing set off weeks of civil unrest in the St. Louis suburb, which has a majority-black population while its police department and city leadership is predominantly white. City and county law enforcement’s aggressive, militarized response to protests and demonstrations near the site of the shooting exacerbated tensions and galvanized a local population calling attention to racial grievances.

Area residents have not let their public anger extinguish. A St. Louis County Council meeting last week was interrupted several times by attendees chanting, “Arrest Darren Wilson!”

“How many people have to say his hands were up in the air?” shouted one speaker at the meeting, according to KPLR.

This week, a fire of unknown origin destroyed one of two makeshift memorials for Brown near the site of his death. Residents were divided as to whether it was an accident or somebody set it on fire. The blaze gathered crowds, who expressed their distress at the fire, as well as discontent with the probe into Brown’s killing.