Streets of Ferguson smolder after grand jury decides not to indict officer

From: CNN

Ferguson, Missouri (CNN) — This is what Ferguson looked like Tuesday morning.

Shattered glass from looted stores covered the asphalt. Shell casings from unknown shooters littered the ground. And more than a dozen buildings, including stores owned by local residents, had been set ablaze.

As protesters hurled bottles, batteries and rocks at police, officers in riot gear responded by shooting bean bags and tear gas.

“This ain’t Iraq. This is the United States,” Demetric Whitlock yelled to a line of police officers on South Florissant Road, in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

When a grand jury decided Monday not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the news triggered fresh confrontations between protesters and police in the tense Missouri city.

While most of the demonstrators peacefully protested on the streets, some smashed the windows of a police cruiser and set another on fire.

An entire row of businesses on West Florissant Avenue, a major thoroughfare, was engulfed in flames. There were so many infernos that firefighters couldn’t rush to every one.

Amid the looting and arson, some protesters demanded the media stop reporting on the events. CNN’s Sara Sidner was struck in the head with a rock.

Many business owners will return to their shops to see their livelihoods in ruins. Looters broke into a beauty supply store and stole hair weaves and wigs, leaving the heads of mannequins strewn in the middle of the street.

And in nearby Dellwood, some people torched a row of cars at a car dealership and set several businesses on fire.

“The fire district does not feel safe coming out to put out fires because of the gunshots and the looting there taking place,” Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones said. “So they are refusing, basically, to come out and put these fires out.”

Police response

Amid the chaos, police made 29 arrests. No officers suffered any serious injuries, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said, and to his knowledge, police didn’t cause any serious injuries, either.

But Belmar said he heard at least 100 gunshots go off through the night. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said police did not fire any of the bullets.

On Tuesday morning,Gov. Jay Nixon ordered more Missouri National Guard members to Ferguson.

“The Guard is providing security at the Ferguson Police Department, which will allow additional law enforcement officers to protect the public,” Nixon’s office said.

But it’s unclear how long standoffs might continue between protesters and police.

“People here have a real grudge against the police,” Whitlock said. “It’s not going away.”

Across the country

Outrage over the grand jury’s decision spread far beyond Ferguson. Protesters gathered in New York, Seattle and Washington, where some laid down on the street outside the White House.

More than 120 vigils and gatherings were organized nationwide, including some scheduled for Tuesday. They’ll take place in cities big and small — from Los Angeles to Bangor, Maine.

‘Not the answer’

The violence is exactly the reaction that Michael Brown’s father pleaded against. Before the grand jury decision was announced Monday night, he implored protesters to stay peaceful no matter what the grand jury decided.

“Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer,” Michael Brown Sr. said. “No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change. Change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”

Brown’s words were echoed by President Barack Obama, who also called for calm.

It is an “understandable reaction” that some Americans will agree and others will be made angry by the decision to not indict Wilson, Obama said in a live address Monday night.

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” Obama said.

‘Exhaustive review’

Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on August 9.

Brown’s death ignited a national debate on race and law enforcement. Nowhere was the tension more evident than in the predominantly black town of Ferguson, which has a mostly white police department and town government.

Though the basic facts of the case — that Brown was unarmed when Wilson shot him — are not in question, the facts of the fatal moment are hotly disputed.

And grand jury testimony released late Monday offered little clarification.

Wilson gave his version of events, some of which contradicted that of other witnesses.

After an “exhaustive review,” the jurors deliberated for two days to reach their decision, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch told reporters. He said the grand jurors are “the only ones who have heard all the evidence.”

The grand jury had nine white and three black members. It met 25 times and heard 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses and three medical examiners.

Unlike a jury in a criminal case, which convicts someone if jurors are convinced of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a grand jury decides whether there is “probable cause” to charge someone with a crime, based on testimony and evidence presented.

In Missouri, grand jurors don’t have to be unanimous to indict, as long as nine of the 12 agree on a charge.

The grand jury could have issued an indictment on any of these four charges: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

It also could have added a charge of armed criminal action, authorities said.

But jurors decided not to indict Wilson on any charge.

“The physical and scientific evidence examined by the grand jury, combined with the witness statements, supported and substantiated by that physical evidence, tells the accurate and tragic story of what happened,” McCulloch told reporters.

‘Split second decision’

In a statement by his attorneys, Wilson expressed thanks to those who have “stood by his side” since Brown’s shooting.

“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions,” the statement said. “Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”

Family devastated

But Brown’s father is “devastated” that Wilson will not face charges, a spokeswoman for Michael Brown Sr. said.

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the family said in a statement. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”

The family made a call for police officers across the country to wear body cameras.

“Let’s not just make noise,” the family said, “let’s make a difference.”

Federal investigations

So what happens next?

The U.S. Justice Department is conducting two civil rights investigations in the case: one into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights, and another into the police department’s overall track record with minorities.

The investigations will likely require lots of time, if similar past cases are any indication.

Back in Ferguson, residents worried about the toll Monday night’s violence has taken on the quaint revitalized downtown.

One of the casualties was Ferguson Optical. Earlier in the day, manager Tim Marrah had put out the sign he has been displaying since August: “We are family.”

It was no protection against vandals. A storefront window was shattered and left barely standing.

Peaceful protesters were shocked by the violence that has marred the city.

“This is crazy. I mean, this doesn’t do anything,” one resident told CNN.

She worried about how victims would pick up the pieces.

“They’re not going to rebuild. It’s just going to be a ghost town pretty soon.”

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