Police fire teargas in Ferguson, Missouri. 13th August, 2014. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Why are US police firing tear gas and rubber bullets in Ferguson, Missouri?

Armoured vehicles, journalists arrested and protestors shot at – a summary of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of teenager Michael Brown.

Last night, police in Missouri fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds protesting against the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. The shooting occurred on Saturday afternoon, and demonstrators have now gathered for four consecutive nights, and have been met with a “military” style police response.

Police claim officers were responding to violence from crowds, while other reports suggest that protestors were “backing away with their hands up” when being shot at. Officers were reported to have warned crowds before firing, declaring that the “peaceful protest is no longer peaceful”. The confrontation involved armoured trucks, and sniper rifles were reportedly trained on demonstrators.

Among those arrested were two journalists, raising concerns over press freedoms. The editor of the Washington Post, the employer of one of the arrested reporters, commented that the event was “an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news”. The Huffington Post also criticised the “militant aggression” of the police response.

Meanwhile, an Al-Jazeera camera crew have reported being shot at with rubber bullets. Further concerns about media reporting were raised after county police imposed a ban on flights operating below 3,000 feet above the city, which is believed to have restricted coverage from news helicopters.

There is widespread anger about how the case has been handled, and crowds are demanding to know identity of the police officer who carried out the shooting. Although having planned to release the name of the officer, the police reversed their decision, citing “threats made against all Ferguson officers on social media sites” as their reason. It is understood there are currently no plans in place to release the officer’s identity.

Accounts of the shooting vary. Details released by St Louis County Police Department suggest that a scuffle took place after officers asked Brown and another teenager to get out of the street. Following this, an officer fired at Brown from inside the patrol car. The officer reportedly received hospital treatment for a facial injury after the event.

However, others recount the shooting differently. One witness recalled how Brown was grabbed by police after refusing to get on the pavement, before being shot multiple times as he tried to run away. St Louis County Police are still investigating, with a spokesperson claiming that being unable to speak to many “critical witnesses” was slowing the investigation.

A key issue is the concern about racism within the police force. Ferguson’s 21,000 population is two-thirds black, yet the town only has three black police officers out of a total of 53.

Police have asked protestors to only gather during the day and to disperse “well before evening hours”. Yet citizens are concerned about this limitation on their liberty, with one protestor commenting that he planned to “retaliate to the force they are using”. Despite demonstrators mainly consisting of younger members of the community, reports suggest that they have the sympathy of older generations, and it is unclear what course future events will take. 

See below for CNN's video footage of the event:

 

George Gillett is a freelance journalist and medical student. He is on Twitter @george_gillett and blogs here.

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.