Rev. Al Sharpton says the shooting of a black Missouri teenager by a white police officer – which has spurred a week of rancorous and sometimes violent protests in suburban St. Louis – will become a “defining moment on how this country deals with policing.”
The civil rights activist, speaking at a rally Sunday afternoon in Ferguson, Mo., also urged people who are protesting the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown to remain peaceful in their actions.
“Some are angry and out of control. And others are taking advantage of it. And don’t take advantage of their child,” said Sharpton, referring to Brown’s parents.
“Don’t loot in Michael’s name,” he added. “We are not looters, we’re liberators. We are not burners. We are builders.”
The plea followed the first night of a state-imposed curfew in Ferguson, which ended with tear gas and seven arrests after police dressed in riot gear used armored vehicles to disperse defiant protesters.
Brown, who was unarmed, was shot to death in the middle of a street in Ferguson on Aug. 9.
In response to the death, Sharpton urged people to rally and march in Washington, D.C., to demand legislation on policing.
“Ferguson and Michael Brown Jr. will be a defining moment on how this country deals with policing and the rights of citizens to address how police behave in this country,” Sharpton said.
He also asked potential 2016 presidential candidates to speak out on the shooting and protests.
“Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, don’t get laryngitis on this issue,” Sharpton said. “Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house and talk about policing.”
Earlier Sunday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy on Brown’s body.
Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon cited a request by family members and the "extraordinary circumstances" surrounding the case of in explaining the decision.
"This independent examination will take place as soon as possible," Fallon said in a statement. "Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation."
The Justice Department already had deepened its civil rights investigation of the shooting. Officials said a day earlier that 40 FBI agents were going door-to-door gathering information in the Ferguson, Missouri.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights section of Miami's U.S. Attorney's office, said a federally conducted autopsy "more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises" might help that investigation, and that the move is "not that unusual."
He also said federal authorities want to calm any public fears that no action will be taken on the case.
Holder's latest announcement followed the state-imposed curfew in Ferguson.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said protesters weren't the reason for the escalated police reaction early Sunday morning after the midnight curfew took effect, but a report of people who had broken into a barbecue restaurant and taken to the roof, and a man who flashed a handgun in the street as armored vehicles approached the crowd of protesters.
Also overnight, a man was shot and critically wounded in the same area, but not by police; authorities were searching for the shooter. Someone also shot at a police car, officials said.
The protests have been going on since Brown's death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and mostly white Ferguson Police Department, leading to several run-ins between police and protesters and prompting Missouri's governor to put the Highway Patrol in charge of security.
Ferguson Police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer and documents alleging Brown robbed a convenience store before he was killed, though Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know Brown was a suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.
Gov. Jay Nixon, who imposed the curfew after declaring a state of emergency as protests turned violent to start the weekend, said Sunday morning on ABC's "This Week" that he was not aware the police were going to release surveillance video from the store where Brown is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars.
"It's appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw," Nixon said.
In announcing the curfew, Nixon said many protesters were making themselves heard peacefully but the state would not allow looters to endanger the community. Johnson, the Highway Patrol captain, had said police would not enforce the curfew with armored trucks and tear gas and would communicate with protesters and give them ample opportunity to leave. Local officers faced strong criticism earlier in the week for their use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.
“This is my neighborhood. You are my family, you are my friends. I am you,” Johnson said at the rally Sunday. “And I will stand and protect you. I will protect your right to protest.”
Johnson also apologized to Brown’s family at the rally.
“My heart goes out to you and I say that I’m sorry. I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry,” he said.
As the curfew deadline arrived early Sunday, most protesters left the streets, but those who remained protesters refused to leave the area as officers spoke through a loudspeaker: "You are in violation of a state-imposed curfew. You must disperse immediately."
As officers put on gas masks, a chant from the distant crowd emerged: "We have the right to assemble peacefully."
A moment later, police began firing canisters into the crowd. Highway Patrol Spokesman Lt. John Hotz initially said police only used smoke, but later told The Associated Press they also used tear gas canisters.
Jackson, the Ferguson police chief, has identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson, a six-year police veteran who had no previous complaints against him. Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting and the department has refused to say anything about his whereabouts. Associated Press reporters have been unable to contact him at any addresses or phone numbers listed under that name in the St. Louis area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.