Minneapolis responds to Ferguson, Missouri shooting, protest - New York News

What's happening in Ferguson, Missouri and what Minneapolis is doing about it

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

After 5 days and nights of sometimes violent protests, the situation in Ferguson, Mo., is still tense. On Wednesday night, police used tear gas and smoke bombs during clashes with protestors. By Thursday, President Barack Obama was calling for a federal investigation into the deadly, officer-involved shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and an end to the violence.

"There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said. "There's also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protesters."

That sentiment was echoed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who canceled several events so that he could travel to Ferguson with the hopes of easing the mounting tension there.

"As the dawn comes up this morning, we're committed to moving forward in a way that will bring justice and bring peace,” Gov. Nixon said.

On Thursday, Nixon also ordered the Missouri State Patrol to seize control of the St. Louis suburb, stripping local officials of their law-enforcement authority. The governor also promised to ease the deep racial tensions in the community, which is nearly 70 percent black but is patrolled by a nearly all-white police force.

Moment of silence in Minneapolis

A National Moment of Silence was being observed in many cities, including Minneapolis, in response to the death of Michael Brown. The Minneapolis event was held at the Minneapolis Urban League (2100 Plymouth Avenue N.) between 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.

“This will be a peaceful gathering -- a vigil not a protest -- reflecting the National Moment of Silence movement and standing in solidarity,” organizers posted on Facebook. “The community needs a chance to grieve as we continue our work against racism and police brutality.”

Senator: Police must ‘demilitarize'

The show of force by police in Ferguson has prompted criticism about the militarization of local departments. Attorney General Eric Holder said he's concerned about the use of military equipment by police in Ferguson, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has called for authorities to “demilitarize” the situation.

“We need to demilitarize this situation,” McCaskill said. “This kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution. I obviously respect law enforcement's work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.”

Much of the weaponry local departments are debuting has come from the military, and the trend toward a more militarized police force started back in the 1980s with the War on Drugs. Before then, officers carried a revolver and a night stick -- but the pump-action shotgun in the squad car has been replaced by military-grade semi-automatic rifles. Even suburban and rural departments are now getting armored personnel carriers.

Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan's take

While Tim Dolan was leading the Minneapolis Police Department, he saw his fair share of civil unrest. Looking at the powerful images coming out of Ferguson, he said he is reminded of the 1960s -- and he says police need to remember something too.

"It's not a war. We're not at war with these protesters," Dolan said. "We're there to protect their right to protest and make sure things are peaceful and make sure nobody gets hurt."

Ferguson police have been widely criticized for their handling of Wednesday night's protests. An over-zealous officer fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a peaceful crowd, and police even arrested two journalists covering the unrest. According to Dolan, the problem may have started with how police presented themselves.

"If you come out in the turtle gear and the head gear and the face mask and the riot sticks -- you're dressed for a fight and you're probably going to get one," Dolan said.

During the Republican National Convention, Dolan made it a point to remind officers that every day was a new day -- and not to carry tensions forward. He stressed that it is OK to match force with force, but said it's also important to meet peace with peace.

"If we do have a skirmish with the anarchists -- which they did, we don't carry that over into the next day and come out in the heavy gear," Dolan explained. "The next day starts all over again."

Yet, part of the problem may be the fact that Ferguson police don't see a problem with their response. Dolan, however, says it doesn't look good from the community's perspective as they wait for answers on why an unarmed teenager was shot and killed and who was responsible.

"It looks bad," Dolan acknowledged. "It looks real bad, and we haven't heard the police say that yet."

So, what can be done? Dolan has some advice to share.

"Bad news never gets better," he explained. "The longer you sit on bad news, the worse it's going to get -- and I think you're seeing a very good example of that."

Obama: We're all one family

President Obama urged both sides of the controversy to learn to communicate so a tragedy like this doesn't happen again.

"Let's remember, we're all part of one American family,” Obama said. “We are united in common values and that includes belief in equality under the law and basic respect for public order."

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