Chaos Returns to Ferguson Streets 11/25 06:42
Chaos returned to the streets of Ferguson after a grand jury declined to
indict a white police officer in the death of Michael Brown -- a decision that
enraged protesters who set fire to buildings and cars and looted businesses in
the area where the unarmed, black 18-year-old was fatally shot.
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) -- Chaos returned to the streets of Ferguson after a
grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the death of Michael
Brown --- a decision that enraged protesters who set fire to buildings and cars
and looted businesses in the area where the unarmed, black 18-year-old was
Smoke billowed from some businesses Tuesday morning and shattered glass
covered the sidewalks in front of others, but the streets in Ferguson were
Monday night's destruction appeared to be much worse than protests after
August's shootings, with more than a dozen businesses badly damaged or
destroyed. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time
prevented fire crews from fighting the flames.
Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County police, said that unless his
agency could bring in 10,000 officers, "I don't think we can prevent folks who
really are intent on destroying a community."
The grand jury's decision means that Officer Darren Wilson, who is white,
will not face any state criminal charges for killing Brown, whose death
inflamed deep racial tensions between many black Americans and police.
Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said the jury of nine whites and three
blacks met on 25 separate days over three months, hearing more than 70 hours of
testimony from about 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners and
experts on blood, toxicology and firearms.
"They are the only people that have heard and examined every witness and
every piece of evidence," he said, adding that the jurors "poured their hearts
and soul into this process."
In the first flash of unrest after the grand jury announcement, Belmar said
he told officers to back off, suggesting they handle the situation as if it
were a festival or baseball game. But the situation quickly "spun out of
control," as protesters looted businesses and set fire to numerous vehicles,
including at least two police cars.
Officers eventually lobbed tear gas from inside armored vehicles to disperse
crowds. There were at least 29 arrests, police said.
As McCulloch read his statement, Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden,
sat atop a vehicle listening to a broadcast of the announcement. When she heard
the decision, she burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked
away by supporters.
The crowd with her erupted in anger, converging on the barricade where
police in riot gear were standing. They pushed down the barricade and began
pelting police with objects, including a bullhorn. Officers stood their ground.
Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, a defensive McCulloch repeatedly cited what
he said were inconsistencies and erroneous witness accounts. When asked by a
reporter whether any of the accounts amount to perjury, he said, "I think they
truly believe that's what they saw, but they didn't."
The prosecutor also was critical of the media, saying "the most significant
challenge" for his office was a "24-hour news cycle and an insatiable appetite
for something --- for anything --- to talk about."
McCulloch never mentioned that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.
Brown's family released a statement saying they were "profoundly
disappointed" but asked that the public "channel your frustration in ways that
will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that
allowed this to happen."
Shortly after the announcement, authorities released more than 1,000 pages
of grand jury documents, including Wilson's testimony.
Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking
in a street and, when he told them to move to a sidewalk, Brown responded with
an expletive. Wilson then noticed that Brown had a handful of cigars, "and
that's when it clicked for me," he said, referring to a radio report minutes
earlier of a robbery at a nearby convenience store.
Wilson said he asked a dispatcher to send additional police, and then backed
his vehicle up in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door,
Wilson said Brown slammed it back shut.
The officer said he pushed Brown with the door and Brown hit him in the
face. Wilson told grand jurors he was thinking: "What do I do not to get beaten
inside my car."
"I drew my gun," Wilson told the grand jury. "I said, 'Get back or I'm going
to shoot you.'
"He immediately grabs my gun and says, 'You are too much of a pussy to shoot
me,'" Wilson told grand jurors. He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right
hand, twisted it and "digs it into my hip."
Asked why he felt the need to pull his gun, Wilson told grand jurors he was
concerned another punch to his face could "knock me out or worse."
After shots were fired in the vehicle, Brown fled and Wilson gave chase. At
some point, Brown turned around to face the officer.
Witness accounts were conflicted about whether Brown walked, stumbled or
charged back toward Wilson before he was fatally wounded, McCulloch said. There
were also differing accounts of how or whether Brown's hands were raised. His
body fell about 153 feet from Wilson's vehicle.
Thousands of people rallied --- mostly peacefully --- in other U.S. cities
on Monday night, and President Barack Obama appealed for calm and
understanding, pleading with both protesters and police to show restraint.
"We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this
decision was the grand jury's to make," Obama said. He said it was
understandable that some Americans would be angered, but echoed Brown's parents
in calling for peaceful protests.
About 10 St. Louis-bound flights were diverted or canceled Monday night
because of concern about gunfire being aimed into the sky, a Lambert-St. Louis
International Airport spokesman said, but the restrictions expired at 3:30 a.m.
The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible
civil rights violations that could result in federal charges, but investigators
would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount a
prosecution. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson
Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.
Regardless of the outcome of those investigations, Brown's family could also
file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wilson.
The Aug. 9 shooting heightened tensions in the predominantly black suburb
that is patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force. As Brown's body lay
for hours in the center of a residential street, an angry crowd of onlookers
gathered. Rioting and looting occurred the following night, and police
responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.
Protests continued for weeks --- often peacefully, but sometimes turning
violent, with demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and police
firing smoke canisters, tear gas and rubber bullets. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon
briefly summoned the National Guard.
Ron Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol captain who oversaw Ferguson
security during the summer protests, said the community must take some
responsibility for the looting that took place Monday night. There were about
25 fires set overnight, and 10 cars burned at a dealership, Ferguson Assistant
Fire Chief Steve Fair told local media. A pizza shop, beauty supply store and
two auto parts stores were among those fires.
"Those are dreams," Johnson said. "Those are small-business owners, and
we've torn those dreams away."