Ferguson march muted

Protests in Ferguson are racked by racial turmoil after a white policeman shot dead an unarmed black teen.

Fred Scott joins other demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on 20 August, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Picture: AFP.

FERGUSON - Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were muted for a third straight evening on Friday as the National Guard began withdrawing from the St. Louis suburb racked by racial turmoil after a white police officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager.

Hundreds of protesters marched in the hot summer night near the site of the 9 August slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown, chanting 'Hands up, don't shoot,' while police vehicles observed the demonstration, without intervening.

Clergy volunteers wearing bright orange T-shirts discouraged protesters who wanted to defy police orders to keep moving, while live singing and drums boomed out from a flat-bed truck.

At St. Mark Family Church, a hub for protest organisers, activists and residents met to pray and work on plans to improve the predominantly African American community of 21,000 in the wake of unrest that has focused international attention on often-troubled U.S. race relations.

Despite a notable easing of tensions in recent days - police made only a handful of arrests on Wednesday and Thursday - authorities braced for a possible flare-up of civil disturbances ahead of Brown's funeral, which is planned for Monday.

Police in Ferguson came under sharp criticism, especially in the first several days of demonstrations, for arresting dozens of protesters and using heavy-handed tactics and military gear widely seen as provoking more anger and violence by protesters.

In the latest embarrassment for local law enforcement, an officer from the St. Louis County Police Department was removed from active duty on Friday after a video surfaced in which he boasted of being "a killer."

Officer Dan Page, a 35-year-veteran of the police force and a U.S. military veteran, was relieved of patrol duties and placed in an administrative position pending an internal investigation, a police department spokesman said.

In the video, Page is seen addressing a St. Louis chapter of the Oath Keepers, a conservative group of former servicemen, saying, "I'm also a killer. I've killed a lot, and if I need to I'll kill a whole bunch more. If you don't want to get killed, don't show up in front of me."

He also made disparaging remarks about Muslims and expressed the view that the United States was on the verge of collapse.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar apologised for the comments in the video, saying they were "bizarre." In a statement he said that while Page "has never been involved in an officer-involved shooting, the statements made about killing are unacceptable and not what we are about as a department."

Two days earlier, another St. Louis-area policeman, an officer from the town of St. Ann, was suspended indefinitely for pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at a peaceful demonstrator and yelling obscenities.

The incidents have highlighted the racial divide in Ferguson, a largely black town where the police force and local politicians are almost all white. Civil rights activists say Brown's death was the culmination of years of police unfairly targeting blacks.

The White House said it was encouraged by developments over the past few days, and that President Barack Obama was receiving regular briefings on the situation in Ferguson.

A grand jury, made up of three blacks and nine whites, met this week to begin hearing evidence in the case, a process St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said could last into mid-October. Nine votes are needed for an indictment.

Vanessa Spencer, 46, a cafeteria manager who lives in St Louis, took part in Friday's protests, holding a sign reading "Keep Calm Change Coming." Beside her was her sister, Linda Bell, 57, a cook, with a sign saying, 'Together We Stand 4 Peace 4 Mike Brown.'

"But with a grand jury that is mostly white, are we going to get justice?" Bell asked.