FERGUSON, Mo. — Anger spilled over after fire destroyed one of two memorials on the street where Michael Brown was killed, a site that has become sacred to many in Ferguson and others nationwide focused on interactions between minorities and police.
How the fire happened wasn’t immediately clear, but it stoked fresh resentment among those who question whether the shooting of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 is being adequately investigated.
“It’s the same as if somebody came and desecrated a grave,” Anthony Levine of Florissant, another St. Louis suburb, said as he studied the charred scene and shook his head.
Many who gathered at the site blamed police for the blaze, even as the chief said officers did everything they could to keep the stuffed animals and other items from burning.
More than six weeks after Brown’s death, residents and others remain upset about the way his body lay in the street for more than four hours while police investigated the shooting. Many insist he was trying to surrender, with his hands up.
They’re also angry that the officer who shot him, Darren Wilson, remains free and on paid administrative leave while a state grand jury weighs whether Wilson should face criminal charges. The Justice Department also is investigating.
The memorial fire and ensuing outcry was a reminder of the simmering tensions that have only deepened since Brown’s death, which prompted several nights of riots and protests in the predominantly black suburb where just three blacks serve on a 53-officer force.
Two memorials were put up the day Brown was killed. The one not damaged by fire is in the middle of Canfield Drive — a narrow band of stuffed animals, crosses, handmade signs and other items at the exact spot where Brown was shot.
The smaller memorial that burned sat a few feet away with teddy bears, blankets and signs circling a light post. It often included candles that were sometimes lit.
Many residents at the fire scene doubted a candle was the culprit, though. Most were certain someone set the blaze. Some said they smelled gasoline.
“That’s very disrespectful to burn down a memorial to someone that got killed,” said Meldon Moffitt, who lives nearby. “That’s just wrong! The police came here and watched it burn.”
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said in an emailed statement that the fire left him “saddened.” He said the first officer on the scene tried to extinguish the blaze but couldn’t. The Fire Department eventually put it out.
By late morning, the memorial already had been rebuilt with fresh teddy bears, a blanket and new signs. The light post and sidewalk remained charred. About 75 people joined hands in prayer, shouting, “We are Mike Brown!”