FERGUSON, Missouri — The community here sought to pick up the pieces Tuesday after a grand jury decision that left Michael Brown’s family devastated and a night of mayhem that left local businesses in ruins and led to scores of arrests.
The violent turn Monday night following a St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson raised questions about the lack of preparedness of police, the county prosecutor’s choice to announce the decision after dark, and how law enforcement might seek to contain any lingering violence throughout the day Tuesday and into the evening.
Brown’s parents, who earlier said they were ”profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” were expected to address the media in a press conference on Tuesday from St. Louis, but chose not to do so. Instead, the family’s attorneys noted that the evidence released by McCulloch’s office raised even more questions about potential bias from the prosecutor’s office.
“We object publicly and as loudly as we can on behalf of Michael Brown’s family that this process is broken,” said Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney. Crump added that the family will be pushing for a new law named after Michael Brown Jr. that requires police officers to wear body cameras at all times.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Sam Dotson addressed the unrest Tuesday as buildings continued to burn, saying preparations are in order for another night of violent protests if necessary. “You will see an intervention much more quickly than you did last night,” Slay said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon also promised a greater presence of law enforcement on Tuesday. “Violence like we saw last night cannot be repeated,” he said in a tweet. “Mtg w/law enforcement & Guard to ensure protection of lives & property in days ahead.”
Chaos erupted in the streets Monday evening after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that the grand jury did not indict Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, an unarmed black teen, following a brief altercation on Aug. 9. Demonstrations that began peacefully in the wake of the announcement took a nasty turn as looters plundered local stores and protesters flipped cars and set buildings and police vehicles ablaze.
“We condemn the violence of last night but we also condemn the violence of August 9,” Crump said on Tuesday.
Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis Police Department said police had been hit with rocks almost immediately after McCulloch made his statement. Despite reports of over 150 shots of gunfire, no officers or citizens lost their lives. No serious injuries were sustained by officers, but police reported 82 arrests and 12 buildings that had been burned beyond saving. The charges ranged from trespassing to burglary to arson.
“I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protest out there tonight,” said Belmar. “What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August.”
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who held a press conference along with Belmar early Tuesday morning, said that despite a plea for calm from Brown’s family, the community of Ferguson had been torn apart overnight.The announcement drew a rare evening appearance from President Obama, who stepped before cameras at the White House to urge peaceful protest. Television networks placed Obama’s plea for calm in a split screen next to jarring images from Ferguson showing demonstrators clashing with police who deployed flares, smoke and later tear gas to break up the crowds.
Several Ferguson businesses were torched and burned to the ground, including a beauty shop and a Metro PCS store. Protesters broke into Sam’s Meat Market with a sledgehammer and looted it. A police officer from University City, another suburb of St. Louis, was shot in the arm on Monday but it was unclear whether the incident has anything to do with the Ferguson unrest.
The FAA announced late Monday evening it had instituted a no-fly zone “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.”
Demonstrations also took place in cities across the country in reaction to the grand jury’s decision. Protesters gathered outside the White House, marched down a freeway outside Oakland, California and briefly halted traffic at a busy intersection in Los Angeles. In New York City, protesters congregated in Times Square and also showed up in the hundreds on the RFK/Triborough bridge.
Brown’s killing sparked widespread protests in Ferguson and across the nation and led to several investigations, including inquires underway by the Justice Department.
As McCulloch’s news conference was underway, word of the decision spread to the streets of Ferguson where protesters had gathered outside the police department and elsewhere in this largely black suburb of St. Louis. Three gunshots could be heard at one point near the police station, and police formed a barrier on South Florissant Avenue, south of the station, stopping people from passing. Around 100 protesters were lined up just feet from police, chanting at them.
Angry protesters also smashed the windows of a police car and tried to overturn it into the street before heavily armed police, in helmuts and shields, forced them away at gunpoint. Bottles were tossed at officers while other protesters screamed at law enforcement lined up in the street and protecting barriers.
At the White House, Obama counseled calm but acknowledged the reality of racial problems in Ferguson and across the country. “Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone,” Obama said in nationally televised remarks, urging America to heed the Brown family’s wishes. ”I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”
The grand jury, which began its deliberations on Aug. 20, included six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man. A majority vote of nine was needed to indict Wilson.
Wilson, for his part, released a message thanking his supporters.
“Also please keep my family in blue in your hearts and prayers, they have all made a sacrifice to their own lives in order to work the excessive hours through the heat and rain to ensure that the riots and protests in Ferguson were as safe as they could be,” Wilson added.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who visited Ferguson in the weeks after Brown’s killing and who has called for sweeping changes at the city’s largely white police department, released a statement saying a federal investigation into the incident would continue.
“While the grand jury proceeding in St. Louis County has concluded, the Justice Department’s investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown remains ongoing,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released late Monday. “Though we have shared information with local prosecutors during the course of our investigation, the federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now. “
The NAACP put out a tweet, even before McCullough finished his opening remarks that said simply, “We join our brothers & sisters across the country in outrage over the grand jury’s decision. #JusticeforMichael.”
Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Wilson in broad daylight on Aug. 9, following an altercation that ended with Wilson shooting the unarmed teenager at least six times, autopsies revealed. Police say Wilson, who is white, shot the black teen in self-defense after Brown reached for the officer’s gun through the window of the police car. Brown’s body was left in the hot street for hours before it was removed from the scene.
The grand jury’s decision has been long-awaited by Ferguson, a largely black St. Louis suburb, including those who have protested in support of Brown for more than three months. Business owners, school leaders and residents have been taking steps to prepare for possible unrest, with many businesses boarded up and some local school systems closed.
Last week, anticipating the grand jury decision, Nixon declared a state of emergency and preemptively mobilized the National Guard to help support local law enforcement efforts in the event of mass demonstrations. The move has been blasted by critics as presumptive and dangerous, foreshadowing violence by protesters before the first chant could be heard.
Concerns over a potential non-indictment blared early and often, from the streets of Ferguson where thousands took up the cause of justice for Mike Brown and other African-Americans shot and killed by police, to the steps of McCulloch’s office in Clayton, where the grand jury met in secret and on their own schedule.
The Ferguson area had been largely quiet in recent days as the hot days of summer chilled into fall and the frigid snap that gripped the city in the days before the announcement.
The slain teen’s father last week asked for peaceful protests in his son’s name. “No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,” Michael Brown, Sr. said in a video posted to YouTube. “I want it to lead to incredible change. Positive change. Change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone. We live here together. This is our home. We are stronger united.”