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Ferguson Police Chief Issues Video Apology To Michael Brown's Family — And Protesters

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson issued on Thursday a wide-ranging apology to Michael Brown’s family — and to demonstrators who felt their constitutional right to protest was violated in the wake of Brown's death.

Jackson has been under intense scrutiny since one of his officers — Darren Wilson — shot and killed Brown on August 9. His department has been criticized for its insensitivity to Brown's family after the 18-year-old's death and for the department's low racial diversity. The department is facing a federal investigation on potential civil rights violations.     

In a scripted video released by a public relations firm hired by Ferguson, Jackson said the “events of the past few weeks have sent shock waves not just through the community here, but around the nation.” He went on to say that “overnight, I went from being a small-town police chief to being part of an conversation about racism, equality and the role of policing in that conversation.”

He then apologized to Brown’s family, especially for the long time it took to remove Brown's body from the street:

“No one who has not experienced the loss of a child can understand what you’re feeling,” Jackson said. “I am truly sorry for the loss of your son. I am also sorry it took so long to remove Michael from the street. The time that it took involved very important work on the part of investigators who were trying to collect evidence and were trying to paint a true picture of what happened that day. But it was just too long and I am truly sorry for that.”

Jackson also apologized for mishandling the protests after Brown’s death:

“I do want to say to any peaceful protester who did not feel that I did enough to protect their constitutional right to protest, I am sorry for that,” Jackson said. “The right of the people to peaceably assemble is what the police are here to protect.  If anyone was peacefully exercising that right is upset and angry, I feel responsible and I am sorry.”

He concluded by saying he was aware “of the pain and the feeling of mistrust in some of the African-American community toward the police department.” Ferguson is one of numerous St. Louis County municipalities that have received national attention for how it imposes steep fines for violating city ordinances. Some attorneys contend that practice disproportionately hurts poor black residents.

“This city belongs to all of us and we are all part of this community. It is clear that we all have much work to do,” Jackson said. “As a community, a city and a nation, we have real problems to solve, not just in a Ferguson, but in the entire region and beyond. For any mistakes I have made, I take full responsibility.” 

In the statement, Jackson made no mention of releasing documents and video showing that Brown was a suspect in a “strong-armed” robbery — a revelation that incensed protesters already upset over Brown's death. Jackson released that information at a press conference revealing Wilson’s identity — which was attended by reporters from all over the world.

Jackson told reporters that he released the video in response to "sunshine law" requests, but numerous media outlets — including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Huffington Post— have questioned whether that statement was misleading.

Jackson concluded by adding “I look forward to working with you in the future to solve our problems.” That left St. Louis Alderman Antonio French — who has been active in the protests over Brown’s shooting — decidedly unimpressed.

“Chief Jackson's apology to the Browns and the St. Louis community shouldn't be in the form of a scripted video but in a resignation letter,” French said on Twitter.

Ferguson City manager John Shaw directly oversees Jackson. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III indicated that the City Council could fire Jackson if a supermajority of the council wanted to pursue that move.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.