Police’s military-like response to riots in Ferguson draws criticism

TORONTO – Dramatic videos and images show men carrying automatic rifles while riding armoured cars through the streets of Ferguson, a small suburb of St. Louis, Missouri has many questioning the police response to protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

Ferguson has been rocked by four nights of protests after police shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown last Saturday, and some critics are pointing to the larger problem of police militarization.

In an interview with NBC’s Chris Hayes, Radley Balko author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, pointed to police resorting to increasing uses of force.

READ MORE: Obama calls for ‘peace and calm’ in wake of violent clashes in Ferguson, Mo.

“The militarization itself is part of a larger trend… That is a willingness or a policy among domestic police in the United States of using more force more often for increasingly, you know, petty offenses,” said Balko.

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“It is a mentality that sees the people they are supposed to be serving not as citizens with rights but as potential threats,” he said.

For several days since the fatal shooting, protesters and police have engaged in a series of violent clashes. Vandalism and looting was reported following a peaceful vigil Sunday, and a store was set on fire.

WATCH: SWAT Team fires tear at TV crew covering protests in Ferguson, Mo.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has defended the action taken by officers saying tactical units were sent in to respond to protesters throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, and reports of gun fire.

Reporters covering the events in Ferguson have also become caught in the crossfire between police and protesters.

Wednesday night local news channel KSDK captured video of a SWAT team firing tear gas at an Al Jazeera America TV crew attempting to film the ongoing protests, drawing a sharp response from the news organization.

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“Al Jazeera America is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story,” said Kate O’Brian, president of Al Jazeera America.

READ MORE: Calls for calm continue in U.S. town where unarmed black teen killed by police

The incident follows the arrests of journalists Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post who were arrested at a McDonald’s after failing to vacate the building quickly enough.

Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim condemned what he called “militant aggression” by police.

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“Compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or the militant aggression toward these journalists,” Grim said in a statement released Thursday.

WATCH: Police use tear gas, smoke bombs on protesters in Ferguson

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama asked for “peace and calm” in the wake of the violent clashes.

“Let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family, we are united in common values and that includes the belief in equality under the law, respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests,” Obama said during a press conference from the Massachusetts island where he’s on a two-week vacation.

Obama said there was no excuse for excessive force following the shooting of Michael Brown and has asked the FBI to investigate the incident.

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Below are images of the ongoing protests in Ferguson:

With files from The Associated Press

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