Ferguson city council holds first meeting since Michael Brown shooting

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Demonstrators disrupted the first meeting of the Ferguson (Mo.) city council since the August 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer Tuesday evening, with several calling for the city's mayor and other elected officials to step down.

Within minutes of the start of Tuesday night's meeting, several demonstrators stood up and shouted as the council tried to cover some routine business. Later, others stood up and chanted, "Shut it down!" while raising their hands in the air. Protesters have used the gesture because several witnesses say Michael Brown had raised his hands as officer Darren Wilson shot him.

The shooting last month exposed an undercurrent of racial unrest in Ferguson and other nearby suburbs in mostly black communities of north St. Louis County, and prompted days of sometimes-violent protests.

The council was discussing proposed ordinances that include include reducing the revenue from court fines used for general city operations and reforming court procedures. Critics say reliance on court revenue and traffic fines to fund city services more heavily penalizes low-income defendants who can't afford private attorneys and who are often jailed for not promptly paying those fines.

The city also plans to establish a citizens' review board to help guide the police department.

The meeting was held in a local church to accommodate a crowd of several hundred who had to walk through metal detectors at entrances guarded by a heavy police presence.

The first speaker to take the microphone during the public comment period said he was there for Mayor James Knowles's job. It was a theme echoed throughout, as speaker after speaker expressed doubt about the city's planned reforms -- and anger at the government officials seated on the podium.

"You've lost your authority to govern this community," said St. Louis activist John Chasnoff. "You're going to have to step aside peacefully if this community is going to heal."

Another speaker promised more protests if Wilson was not indicted for shooting Brown, saying "You all might as well bring back the army because there’s going to be chaos in the street again," said the young man.

Three hours later, the meeting concluded, with prospective speakers still lined up at a pair of microphones. Knowles told the audience that the proposals would require a second reading before the council could vote on whether to make them law.

Ferguson, a city of 21,000, is about 70 percent black. Its 53-member police department has just three black officers. The mayor and five of the six City Council members are white.

A 2013 report by the Missouri attorney general's office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice as often as white motorists, but were less likely to find contraband among the black drivers.

In the last fiscal year, court fines and fees accounted for $2.6 million, or nearly one-fifth of the city budget. That's nearly twice as much as the city collected two years earlier.

Councilman Mark Byrne said before the meeting that the goal of the proposed changes "is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency."

Police have said the shooting of Brown followed a scuffle after Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk. Autopsies concluded Brown was shot at least six times.

Earlier Tuesday, Brown's parents joined about 20 supporters and activists at a news conference outside police headquarters to reiterate calls for Wilson's immediate arrest.

Also Tuesday, a St. Louis County family court judge denied the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's request for any juvenile records Brown might have had. It's not known if Brown had such a record, and a juvenile court system lawyer said at a hearing last week that Brown never was convicted of a serious felony such as murder or burglary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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