Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Missouri governor calls in National Guard, ends curfew

President Obama blames small minority for violent clashes in Ferguson; sends AG Holder to meet with FBI investigators

Facing continuing demonstrations in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by police, the state’s governor on Monday called in the National Guard to restore calm as crowds demanded the arrest of the white Ferguson city officer, Darren Wilson, who police said shot 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The deployment of National Guard troops follows clashes between armored police and what Gov. Jay Nixon described as “a violent criminal element intent upon terrorizing the community.”

The announcement was accompanied by the lifting of a 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that had been in place over the previous two nights. The ban on anyone being on the streets during those hours had provoked criticism, and the curfew failed to calm the situation in Ferguson, with violent clashes breaking out in the early hours of Monday.

The moves came as President Barack Obama announced that he was sending Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson on Wednesday. But during a press conference at the White House, the president seemingly dodged a question over whether he himself should visit the town, adding that he had to use caution when talking about the case, lest people think he had his "thumb on the scale" of the investigation.

Noting a large gap between the perception of law enforcement and citizens regarding the events in Ferguson, Obama said authorities should recognize a more general need to build confidence in the criminal justice system. 

At the same time, members of the police "have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement," Obama added.

As to the recent violence, the president noted that most of those out on the streets were peaceful protesters, but that a minority were using Brown's death as an excuse for "tossing Molotov cocktails or looting a store."

And in regards to the entry of the National Guard, Obama said he would be monitoring the operation in the coming days to make sure troops were helping not harming the situation.

In Missouri, Nixon said stopping the strife — marked by looting and defiance of curfews — was a task beyond the abilities of local authorities, whom the guard will aid.

"These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served and to feel safe in their own homes," Nixon said.

Authorities said they were responding to reports on Sunday of gunfire, looting, vandalism and protesters hurling Molotov cocktails. The local school district canceled classes, scheduled for Monday, out of concern for the safety of children amid the violence.

The clashes have caught international attention, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issuing a statement Monday urging law enforcement organizations to respect protesters' rights.

"The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

The National Guard call-up represents authorities’ second attempt to quell protests that started last week after Brown’s death on Aug. 9. The first such attempt came last Thursday, when the governor placed local Ferguson City and St. Louis County police in the city under the command of the state’s highway patrol — after city forces responded to protests with SWAT teams and sniper rifles pointed in the direction of unarmed demonstrators.

That switch brought a day of what seemed like reconciliation between citizens and police. But Friday – after Ferguson city authorities released a video allegedly showing Brown taking a pack of mini-cigars from a convenience store shortly before his shooting – clashes resumed.

Many saw the release of the video as an unfair attack against Brown, noting that police acknowledged that the officer who shot him did not know he was a suspect in the theft. Police say Wilson stopped Brown at first for walking in the middle of the street. Brown’s family and supporters have described the robbery allegations as character assassination.

The governor’s decision and the latest confrontations between police and protesters came just hours after Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on Brown. On Sunday, the results of a preliminary autopsy of the victim showed he had been shot six times — four times in the right arm and two times in the head. A private examiner performed that autopsy on the Brown family’s behalf.

Another expert, Shawn Parcells, a pathologist hired by the family, said Monday that one a bullet wound to his arm may have happened when he put his hands up, "but we don't know."

At a news conference with Brown family and its legal team, Parcells said that a graze wound on Brown's right arm could have occurred in several ways. He says the teen could have had his back to the shooter, or he could have been facing the shooter with his hands above his head or in a defensive position.

Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden spoke on ABC’s “Good Morning America” talk show Monday and said that justice would be for Wilson to face arrest and prosecution in the death of her son.

She added that Capt. Ron Johnson, the highway patrol officer responsible for overseeing the response to the unrest, met with them Sunday and apologized for the death of their son. Capt. Johnson, who is black, also told the parents that Brown could have been his son, McSpadden said.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned in Ferguson, with demonstrations becoming violent after an earlier period of calm.

A crowd of about 400 appeared peacefully marched Sunday, but a spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol said that "aggressors" were trying to infiltrate a law enforcement command post, and that armored vehicles were deployed to ensure public safety.

"We ordered them back. We ordered them back again. After several attempts, we utilized the smoke to disperse these individuals," said Justin Wheetley of the highway patrol.

"The smoke bombs were completely unprovoked," said Anthony Ellis, 45. "It [the protest] was led by kids on bikes. Next you know, they're saying, 'Go home, Go home!'"   

With tensions high Sunday night, several journalists said they faced threats of violence from police.

One journalist broadcasting a livestream of events on the Internet reported an officer threatening to shoot him if he did not obey his commands to turn off his camera light and leave. Several others reported being briefly detained by police.

MSNBC reporter Chris Hayes, tweeting Sunday night, said an officer gave him an unequivocal warning.

Hayes tweeted, “Riot cop to me just a few minutes ago: ‘Get back! Or next time you're gonna be the one maced.'"

Al Jazeera and wire services. Ryan Schuessler contributed to this report

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