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Michael Brown’s stepfather was hurt and angry when he urged a crowd in Ferguson, Missouri, last week to “Burn this bitch down,” his wife and attorney say, but that hasn’t stopped authorities from launching an investigation into whether he incited a riot.
Following the announcement that the grand jury would not indict Officer Darren Wilson in his stepson’s death, Louis Head stepped onto a platform above the crowd and embraced his wife, Brown’s mother. He then turned to the demonstrators — some of them shouting “F— the police!” — and yelled, “Burn this motherf—er down!” and “Burn this bitch down!”
No charges have been filed against Head, but police have interviewed people who know Head and who were with him November 24, the day a prosecutor announced that Wilson would not be indicted in the August 9 shooting, Police Chief Tom Jackson said Tuesday.
Ferguson, already tense from weeks of awaiting the grand jury’s decision, erupted following St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s news conference announcing no indictment.
A row of businesses on West Florissant Avenue, a major thoroughfare in the St. Louis suburb, was engulfed in flames. Police cars and vehicles at a nearby dealership were turned into fireballs. There were so many blazes that firefighters couldn’t reach them all.
Police have not spoken to Head about his actions, but they intend to do so, Jackson said Tuesday, adding that multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in the investigation.
The police chief told TV and radio host Sean Hannity something similar Monday, but he didn’t classify the probe as formal.
“We are pursuing those comments, and there’s a lot of discussion going on about that right now, but I really can’t get into that at this time,” he said.
But police aren’t singling out Head, Jackson told Hannity.
“We can’t let all that happened in Ferguson and Dellwood and the community die. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people’s property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses — every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
Brown’s mother, who was standing next to Head when he made the comments and herself told the crowd she’d never experienced anything like this, offered some context in a CNN interview last week.
After hearing McCulloch’s announcement, Lesley McSpadden said, she felt like she’d been shot herself and her “emotions were raging.” Head was angry, too, she said, defending his response.
“He just spoke out of anger. It’s one thing to speak, and it’s a different thing to act. He did not act. He just spoke out of anger,” she said. “When you’re that hurt and the system has did you this wrong, you may say some things as well. We’ve all spoke out of anger before.”
Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump has previously called Head’s remarks inappropriate but asked the public not to condemn the family for being human. More recently, he told CNN to remember that Brown’s mother and father have repeatedly asked protesters to remain peaceful.
He further called Head’s statements “indefensible” and “not appropriate in any way.”
“We don’t condone people acting on emotion calling for people to do irresponsible things at all,” Crump told CNN. “And so we want his family, his mother and father’s message to come across louder than anybody who might be associated with them. … And they can’t control what others do. They can control what they pray for.”
Others have called for Head’s arrest, including Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who told radio host Laura Ingraham last week “that he should be arrested and charged with inciting to riot.”
News of a probe into Head’s remarks came as the Fraternal Order of Police revealed that its members had been providing Wilson free protection since Brown was killed.
Wilson began receiving threats via phone, email and social media after the shooting, and “the (Ferguson Police) department being unwilling or unable as an entity to provide security for him, Fraternal Order of Police members from the surrounding area volunteered and have provided him with security from that time, right up until the present,” said the group’s executive director, Jim Pasco.
Despite Pasco’s assertion that a police department is supposed to protect someone “when a person in the community is inundated with threats on his or her life,” it’s been widely reported that Wilson went into hiding so hastily after the Brown shooting that he left his lawn half-mowed.
In another development Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced that the National Guard will scale back operations in St. Louis County.
“The Guard has completed its duties within the city of St. Louis, and has begun to systematically reduce its presence in St. Louis County,” Nixon said in a statement.
Troops are still supporting local law enforcement agencies in Ferguson and other parts of the county, he said.