By Nick Carey, Carey Gillam and Edward McAllister
FERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) – Another march and a memorial service are planned for Friday in the violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a police officer has prompted two weeks of protests.
Following two straight nights of relative calm in the St. Louis suburb, a drawdown of National Guard troops was expected to begin on Friday. Some protesters said they thought this was a good sign, but doubted it would have much impact.
“It antagonized the people more having them here, but we never cared about them much anyway,” said Mauricelm-Lei Millere, an advisor with the New Black Panther Party, which is planning a march at 7 p.m. CDT starting in the neighborhood where Michael Brown, 18, had lived before being shot on Aug. 9.
An area church said it would hold a “praise and worship” service Friday evening for Brown, whose funeral is slated for next Monday.
Visitors continued on Friday morning to visit a homemade memorial erected in Brown’s memory on the street where he was shot, bringing bouquets of flowers.
Police, who were widely criticized for using heavy-handed tactics to quell earlier protests over Brown’s death, made only isolated arrests on Thursday as local clergy and civic leaders worked to keep protests orderly.
Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard deployment to help quell the looting and vandalism that have accompanied the nightly protest rallies over Brown’s death, but the troops have largely kept a low profile.
Clergy and civic leaders again urged protesters to remain peaceful and to return to their homes after dark.
Captain Ron Johnson, a black State Highway Patrol officer placed in command last week after the criticism of the local police, said the town is headed towards a “sense of peace” after almost nightly clashes between protesters and riot gear-clad police that often ended in tear gas and dozens of arrests.
“This is truly the community of Ferguson. We are headed toward a sense of peace for our community,” he said.
More marches are planned for Saturday afternoon by the St. Louis County NAACP and the New Black Panther Party. A national group of Baptist ministers plans a march on Tuesday morning through Brown’s neighborhood.
The turmoil has cast the community of 21,000 people into the international spotlight as an emblem of often-troubled race relations in the United States.
Although Ferguson is predominantly African-American, its political leadership, police department and public school administration are dominated by whites. Civil rights activists say Brown’s death was the culmination of years of police unfairly targeting blacks.
Brown’s parents and supporters have been calling for the immediate arrest of Darren Wilson, 28, the police officer who shot their son. Wilson has been placed on leave and has gone into seclusion.
A local grand jury met on Wednesday to begin hearing evidence in the case, a process St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said could last into mid-October.
Brown’s family and protesters are demanding that the probe be turned over to a special prosecutor, saying McCulloch has a record of discriminatory handling of cases involving police accused of misconduct against blacks.
McCulloch, whose father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black man, has promised a fair and impartial investigation.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson on Wednesday to meet Brown’s parents and other residents, and to review the status of a federal civil rights investigation he has ordered into Brown’s slaying.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who viewed her son’s body for the first time on Wednesday at a local morgue shortly before meeting Holder, said his assurances helped restore her faith that justice could be done.
“Just hearing the words come directly from his mouth, face-to-face, made me feel like, one day, I will,” she told CNN on Thursday. “And I’m not saying today, or yesterday, but one day, they will regain my trust.”
(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in Ferguson, Missouri; Writing by Eric M. Johnson and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Bernard Orr)