FERGUSON, Mo. — Protests in the St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest since a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death turned violent Wednesday night, with people lobbing molotov cocktails at police who responded with smoke bombs and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who has been the public face of the city torn by Saturday's death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, told reporters earlier in the day that the St. Louis County investigation of the shooting could take weeks to complete. In the meantime, he said, his department welcomes Justice Department training on racial relations in the suburb, where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black while all but three of the police force's 53 officers are white.
"Unfortunately, an undertow (of racial unrest) has bubbled to the surface," said Jackson. "Race relations is the top priority right now."
While Jackson said he wanted to mend fences with the community, protesters were on the streets of Ferguson again Wednesday, facing heavily armed police who at time trained weapons on them from an armored truck. Two reporters said they were detained by police while working at a McDonald's in the area. And the situation became more tense after nightfall, with police ordering people to go home and then using smoke bombs and later tear gas after some people threw molotov cocktails at them.
Earlier, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post said they were handcuffed and put into a police van after officers came in to quickly clear the fast-food restaurant where they were doing some work. The reporters were released without any charges.
Martin D. Baron, the Post's executive editor, issued a statement saying "there was absolutely no justification for his arrest" and that the organization was appalled by the conduct of the officers involved.
Police have said the shooting happened after an officer encountered 18-year-old Michael Brown and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer's weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car. The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times.
Jackson said Wednesday the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.
Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown he was shot, has told a much different story. Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.