Black leaders trying to quell rioting in a St. Louis suburb, where police shot dead an unarmed African-American teen, fear the presence of the Rev. Al Sharpton will hurt their efforts, James Knowles, the mayor of Ferguson, Mo., told Newsmax TV.
"There's a lot of concern among a lot of the African American leaders here,'' Knowles said Wednesday on Newsmax's "The Steve Malzberg Show.''
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"I have the concern that we'll lose sight of this young man and the tragedy and become clearly a national spectacle, instead of focusing on this young man and the issues at hand.
"Sometimes star power is not always a good thing.''
Michael Brown, 18, was shot multiple times on Saturday by an officer whom authorities have declined to identify because he is not charged with a crime.
The shots were fired after Brown reportedly got into an altercation with the officer, who had stopped Brown and another man as they walked along a street.
The shooting has sparked days of rioting, looting and several stores being set on fire. One woman was critically wounded when she was shot in the head.
Dozens of rioters have been arrested and the Justice Department has sent its Community Relations Service to the area in a bid to ease the racial tension.
"We're at a point now where we think we've achieved a level of safety in our community and restoring things back to a relative normalcy and we really have to do that so that we can sit down and talk about these things,'' Knowles said.
"You're not going to accomplish anything in the streets screaming. There's a lot of serious issues that need to be discussed and those have to be discussed with people at a table talking to each other, not screaming at each other.''
Sharpton arrived in St. Louis on Tuesday and walked arm-in-arm with Brown’s family members, their lawyer and clergy members. The controversial civil-rights leader and MSNBC host then made a fiery speech to a crowd at the city's historic Old Courthouse.
"St. Louis is in fact bearing witness for America," Sharpton said. "The Band-Aid has been ripped off, and all of America is seeing the open wound of racism exists."
Knowles told Steve Malzberg: "If he really wants that, then we have a table here. We can all sit around, but that's not going to happen [when] there's 500 people on the street….
"There's been some comments made by some leaders who don't want Sharpton's protest … some African American leaders and some of the African American elected officials.''
Protesters say the area's police force has a staggering lack of diversity — with just three black officers out of 50. The city of Ferguson is about 68 percent African American.
Knowles criticized social media platforms for inflaming the community.
"Social media blew this up…. Within a couple of hours [after the shooting], I have people contacting me about it and I'm like 'How do you know?'
'Well, so and so put in on Facebook'. It blows up,'' he said.
"It just blew into this enormous issue, not even out of grief or shock about what happened, but the amount of inflammatory comments, the amount of people who with contradictory stories.
"I don't know any of the facts of the case, but it seemed like everybody else did within a couple of hours and that was all on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.''
Knowles insisted the community is strong and will get through the trauma of the tragic killing.
"We want people to know that we're a strong community…. Everybody sees these things on TV and other areas and imagine that it can't happen here, especially a small, quiet suburb of St. Louis. It is shocking,'' he said.
"Our community has been very diverse for a long time. I grew up here, I attended a high school that was majority African American at the time and it's gotten more so, but I never saw racial violence at my school.
"I never saw the frustration or the anger between the races. We are a very cohesive group. You just feel like we went in peace and harmony for the most part and to see racial violence occur that's just completely a new phenomenon here.''
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