MSNBC talk show host and civil rights leader Al Sharpton and other speakers at a press conference held Tuesday in Ferguson, Mo., called for peace as well as a federal investigation into the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Witnesses claim that Brown was surrendering when he was gunned down. Police have maintained that Brown assaulted the officer who shot him and struggled for his service weapon.
The incident has served as a catalyst for violence in the St. Louis suburb, which experienced heavy looting and riot-like conditions following a vigil held Sunday. (RELATED: News Photographer Needed His War Gear To Cover Missouri Riot Following Police Shooting)
“To become violent in Michael Brown’s name is to betray the gentle giant that he was,” Sharpton told a crowd gathered in Ferguson on Tuesday.
“Don’t be so angry that you distort the image of who his mother and father told us he was,” he said, adding “don’t be a traitor to Michael Brown in the name of you’re mad [sic].”
Looters descended on a number of businesses in the city and completely destroyed a convenience store there. (RELATED: Reporter Assaulted Amid Heavy Looting Following Protest Over Black Teen Killed By Police)
Besides the calls for peace amid growing tension, Sharpton urged the federal government to take over the investigation since he believes that police have not been transparent with information about the shooting.
“We want the federal government to step in, not only as partner, but become the ones that deal with this case,” Sharpton said.
“The local authorities have put themselves in a position, hiding names, not being transparent, where people will not trust anything but an objective investigation.”
The name of the officer who shot Brown was set to be released on Tuesday, but Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson said that the name would be withheld because of threats made against him.
Florida civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who was hired by the Brown family, also spoke at the event. Crump represented the family of Trayvon Martin after he was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012.
“They want the name of the police officer who shot their son in broad daylight to be released just so that would be one step to transparency,” said Crump.
“We want to know why he felt the need to shoot an unarmed kid who was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops,” Crump said, adding that he wanted to know why the officer “felt the need to execute” Brown.
Brown’s father was concise in his comments.
“No violence,” said Michael Brown Sr.
While Crump opened Tuesday’s press conference by saying that Brown’s death was not a racial issue, Jamal Bryant, a minister from Baltimore, painted the shooting in starkly racial terms.
“All of America is seeing the open wound that racism still exists,” said Bryant while also invoking a time in U.S. history when blacks were considered “three-fifths” of a vote.
Bryant called for the name of the police officer to be released since Brown’s name was circulated. He also called for a toxicology report. “We don’t know if he was drunk,” Bryant said. “We don’t know if he was high.”
A friend who was walking with Brown before the shooting says that a police officer drove up and asked the pair to move out of the street. An altercation of some sort ensued. The officer claims that Brown assaulted him in his squad car. A shot was fired in the car. Brown was fatally shot 35-feet from the cruiser.
Brown’s friend and other witnesses claim that Brown was surrendering as the officer opened fire. Some witnesses claim that Brown was even holding his hands up above his head.
Community protesters, as well as Sharpton, appear to have embraced that as a symbol of their anger over the shooting.
“If you want justice, throw your arms up!” Sharpton said. “Because that’s the sign Michael was using.”
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said Brown’s death deserves “a fulsome review” and that the FBI will be conducting a civil rights investigation as St. Louis County police investigate the shooting.
On Tuesday, various outlets reported that the friend walking with Brown when he was shot was not interviewed by police. When asked whether the friend, 22-year-old Dorian Johnson, would be speaking with police, Crump said that he would instead speak only to federal authorities because he does not trust local police.
“And how could he?” Crump asked.