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Obama wants open investigation into Ferguson shooting

President Barack Obama speaks about Iraq and also the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

President Barack Obama spoke about Iraq and also the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

FERGUSON, Mo. — President Barack Obama called on the police in this St. Louis suburb to be “open and transparent” as they investigate the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, and he urged calm in a city that has been rocked by violence in recent days.

But Obama did not specifically call on the police to release the name of the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday, a decision by the authorities that has helped fuel anger among the residents of Ferguson.

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Speaking to reporters from his island vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Obama urged law enforcement and protesters to “take a step back and think” about their actions. He scolded the police in Ferguson for reports of excessive force by officers and of protesters being jailed.

“Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs,” Obama said. “Now’s the time for healing. Now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”

The president said he had just spoken to Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri about his concern that the situation had taken “a violent turn.” He said he had urged Nixon to make sure public safety was maintained.

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Minutes earlier, the governor promised that residents of Ferguson were going to see a different tone in the response by the police after five nights of unrest during which the authorities have used tear gas and rubber bullets to control the crowds.

Officials said Nixon would soon remove the St. Louis County police from handling the protests in Ferguson.

The police chief of Ferguson, Tom Jackson, said during a news conference that federal, state and local officials were meeting Thursday to discuss the police response to the protests, in part to determine if the actions of officers had exacerbated the conflict.

“We’re going to talk about not only the tactics but the appearance” of the officers, who have been equipped with riot gear and assault rifles during the demonstrations, Jackson said.

Earlier, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said that the police response in Ferguson needed to be demilitarized. Speaking to about 100 people near St. Louis, McCaskill said the response to the protests had become part of the problem rather than a solution.

“When the police come out and have equipment that makes it feel like the protesters are assumed to be the bad guys, I don’t think it helps take the tension out of the situation,” she said. “I think it puts more in it.”

Nixon made his comments after meeting with the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition and other civic and faith leaders.

“There has been a fear to hear, not just about this action, but how this fits into a much larger and broader context into a deeper march to justice,” the governor said. But he also said that people should be allowed to demonstrate as long as it is peaceful.

“We must make sure that justice prevails,” Nixon said, assuring residents that the investigation be done to see that justice is done.

Obama issued a written statement two days ago on Brown’s shooting, promising that the Justice Department and the FBI would examine the circumstances of the death. Since then, the situation in the Midwest city has grown more violent, with clashes between police and protesters. Obama warned that people should not use what he called “this tragedy” as an opportunity for vandalism or looting.

But he spoke more directly to the law enforcement authorities, saying that “we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard.”

Earlier Thursday, a group identifying itself as Anonymous, the computer hacking collective, disclosed what it said was the name of the police officer who fatally shot Brown.

Writing on Twitter, the group said it would publish additional information about the officer — including his photograph — if it did not receive a response from the St. Louis County Police Department, which is overseeing one of the investigations into the death of Brown. Brown was shot Saturday afternoon while walking from a convenience store with a friend. But the account was later taken down by Twitter.

Jackson said that the name released by Anonymous was incorrect, and the St. Louis County police said on Twitter that the name was “not even an officer with St. Louis County or Ferguson.”

The Ferguson Police Department has declined to release the name of the officer, citing safety concerns for the officer and his family after threats were made against him and the department on social media.

Jackson said officials would discuss whether to release the name of the officer but that a decision had not yet been made.

“We’re having some conversations about that today,” he said.

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