Standing on the steps of the Old Courthouse downtown, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday that he didn’t come to St. Louis in the wake of Michael Brown’s death to prompt division but to seek answers.
Until Brown’s family and the larger community have those answers, the civil rights leader told a news conference, it will be hard to achieve the peace and trust that everyone is looking for.
“The local authorities have put themselves in a position, hiding names, not being transparent,” Sharpton said. “People will not trust anything but an objective investigation. It is in the interest of everybody, it’s in the interest of bringing the city together, that you have a fair and objective investigation.”
“We did not come to divide the city. We came to bring the city of one accord. But one accord means that you must have equal protection under the law. Those that are saying peace, but they really just mean quiet.
“In order to establish peace, you must have fair justice for everyone. We want real peace. We don’t to be told to just shut up and suffer in silence. We must have answers, and then use those answers to guide us toward peace.”
Sharpton and others called again for Ferguson police to release the name of the officer who shot and killed Brown on Saturday afternoon. The shooting set off two nights of unrest in north St. Louis County, with stores looted and some burned.
About a dozen arrests were reported among those involved in the disturbances. Attorney Benjamin Crump told the news conference that the arrests for unlawful assembly show a lack of respect for young blacks.
“These individuals were arrested because they had their hands up,” Crump said, “and they said, don’t shoot me for walking. Don’t shoot me because I’m black. The police thought that was enough to arrest them….
“If you want the community to have faith in you and to calm down, don’t arrest us for exercising our constitutional rights.”
He called for calm, not violence, but he also called for more openness than authorities have shown so far. The Ferguson police chief said Tuesday he is hesitating to release the name of the officer who fired the fatal shots because of threats against the policeman’s family.
“That doesn’t give the community confidence,” Crump said. “That doesn’t make it transparent. Remember, we’ve got a long way to go before this community is going to believe that the police are going to give them all the information and not try to sweep it under the rug.”
To that end, Crump added, “we have asked that the witness who was with Michael Brown Jr. be allowed to give a statement to the federal law enforcement agencies because he does not trust the local law enforcement agencies. And how could he? He saw his friend executed in front of him.”
'An unarmed, young, gentle man'
Sharpton said that talking with Brown’s family reinforced for him their desire for a satisfactory resolution of the death of what he called “an unarmed, young, gentle man.”
“The only thing they expressed is they want justice and fairness in the process of their losing their son,” he said. “This is not a cause for them. This is their child. This is not some prop for politics. This is their child.”
Noting that witnesses had said Brown had his arms raised when he was shot, Sharpton asked the crowd to join him in the same gesture.
“If you’re angry,” he said, “throw your arms up. If you want justice, throw your arms up. If you want answers, throw your arms up. Because that’s the sign Michael was using.
“(People are) going around trying to act like he had a gang sign. He had a surrender sign. That’s the sign you’ve got to deal with. Don’t make up no signs. Deal with the last sign he showed. And we want answers about why that sign was not respected.”
'I need justice'
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr. – again wearing a T-shirt with his son’s photo and the civil rights slogan “No Justice No Peace” spoke briefly to the crowd, reiterating what he has said in previous appearances.
“I just want justice for my son,” he said softly, facing a brace of microphones. “I really do. I need justice for my son.”
“I need all of us to come together and do things the right way so we can get something done about this. No violence.”
At the news conference, it was announced that a fund for the family has been established at the Fifth Third Bank of Ferguson. Donations can be made to the Michael Brown Jr. Fund. It was also announced that Sharpton's National Action Network would pay for Brown's funeral.
Another rally to support the Brown family was called for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 9950 Glen Owen Drive in north St. Louis County.