Businesses torched in Ferguson police shooting protests
FERGUSON, Missouri — Missouri’s governor ordered more National Guardsmen into Ferguson on Tuesday after a night of violence over a grand jury decision’s not to indict a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old — one of America’s most racially charged cases in recent years.
Smoke billowed from the blackened shells of burned-out businesses, and glass littered the sidewalks in front of stores whose display windows were smashed during protests in the St. Louis suburb the night before.
The grand jury’s decision means that officer Darren Wilson will not face any state criminal charges for killing Michael Brown, whose death reignited debates over relations between police and minority communities, even in cities far from Ferguson.
The violence erupted despite pleas for calm from the Brown family and President Barack Obama.
The destruction appeared to be much worse than protests that erupted after Brown’s Aug. 9 death, 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.
Brown’s shooting unleashed tensions in the predominantly black suburb that is patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force. As Brown’s body lay for hours on a residential street, an angry crowd gathered. Rioting and looting occurred the following night, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.
Gov. Jay Nixon issued a statement Tuesday saying he was calling in more troops from the National Guard, a reserve force of the U.S. military, to assist law enforcement in Ferguson, but he didn’t say how many additional troops or how long they would remain.
Wilson’s lawyers issued a statement praising the grand jury’s decision and saying the officer, who has remained out of the public eye since the shooting, is grateful to his supporters.
“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions,” the lawyers wrote. “Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”
There were 61 arrests in Ferguson overnight, many for burglary and trespassing, St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman said. There were 21 arrests in St. Louis, the city’s Mayor Francis Slay said.
At least 18 people were injured, including one person who recovering from a gunshot wound at an area hospital.
Many area school districts cancelled classes out of concern for the safety of children.
Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said witnesses had given the grand jury inconsistent accounts of the shooting, including whether Brown’s hands were raised and whether he was stumbling or charging toward Wilson.
Speaking to reporters for nearly 45 minutes, McCulloch never mentioned that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.
As McCulloch read his statement Monday, 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.
Brown’s family released a statement Tuesday saying they were “profoundly disappointed” but asked that the public “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”
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.
Thousands of people rallied — mostly peacefully — in other U.S. cities on Monday night while Obama appealed for calm. Police in cities from Los Angeles to New York prepared for another day of demonstrations Tuesday.
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.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.