Ferguson burning after grand jury announcement

By Yamiche Alcindor, Greg Toppo, Gary Strauss and John Bacon | USA Today | November 25, 2014

The streets were quiet but fires continued to burn Tuesday following a night of violence triggered by a grand jury's decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of unarmed, black teen Michael Brown.

Demonstrators taunted police, shattered windows and set fire to two St. Louis County police cars at the protest's furious peek. Scattered, intermittent gunfire was also reported.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a 1:30 a.m. CT news conference that at least a dozen buildings were set ablaze and that he had heard at least 150 gunshots, none fired by police. A police officer was shot but not seriously hurt, Belmar said.

Police had made 29 arrests.

"I'm disappointed this evening," Belmar said. "What I've seen tonight is probably worse than the worst night we had in August."

He said protesters could not be controlled "unless we bring 10,000 policemen in here."

Scores of police officers, armed with riot gear, dispersed a crowd of about 300 with volley after volley of tear gas, pepper spray and bean bags. But not before looters plundered a Walgreens store, Family Dollar store and an AutoZone outlet. Other protesters torched a Little Caesars pizza restaurant and local beauty shop among several buildings set ablaze that were continuing to light up the sky early Tuesday morning. Two police cars were burned.

The chaos grounded flights in and out of St. Louis' Lambert International Airport airlines until early Tuesday"to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Much of the crowd was gone by midnight. There were no other official reports of arrests or injuries.

Monday's violence reminiscent of the unrest that rocked this St. Louis suburb for several days following Brown's death last summer came despite efforts by Brown's family, civil rights activists local and state authorities and President Obama to tamp down anger in the wake of the grand jury's findings. "There's never an excuse for violence,'' Obama said.

Still, Ferguson resident Malik Rhasaan, a community organizer with Hands Up United, said the carnage was nothing compared with the sight of Brown's body lying in the street for several hours following his death. "They have insurance. They can rebuild,'' said Rhasaan, 42. "The life of Mike Brown can't be rebuilt. Our patience cannot be rebuilt.

Richard Royal, a manager at a local Sonic restaurant who was told by police to close up early, said he understood the frustration and anger at the grand jury's decision, but said the violence was unnecessary. "We could have done something better, like a boycott, that would have hit them in their pockets,'' said Royal, 32.

Demonstrators reacted more peacefully in several other cities, where police were braced for raucous protests. Authorities initially reported that gatherings were mostly peaceful. But the violence was concentrated in Ferguson.

Some gathered hours before the announcement in a parking lot across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. Many stood right at the edge of the lot, almost in the street, chanting, "No justice, no peace, no racist police."

One woman leading the group screamed through a bullhorn "Indict that cop. Police don't like it. We want an indictment."

Several young men in hooded sweatshirts reading "Peace Keepers" kept people from streaming into the street. A couple of people approached the police department building, but a woman asked them to protest the right way and pulled them into a prayer circle.

In New York, hundreds marched through Union Square holding signs saying "Jail Killing Cops" and "Resistance Is Justified." Protesters were penned in an area at the northern end of the square, behind a ring of police officers. They pushed the metal police barriers aside and rushed towards the southern end of the square where holiday kiosks selling crafts were set up. The protesters yelled, "No justice, no peace, no racist police."

In downtown Tempe, AZ., about 60 people showed up at Tempe Town Lake, splintering into two groups after a verbal dispute over protest tactics. One group walked toward the Tempe police station and courts building chanting expletives and anti-police sentiments. The other group calmly walked in a different direction.

Protesters in Oakland, Calif., lay in the middle of an intersection in silent protest, then marched down Broadway shouting, "Hands up, don't shoot," and "Black lives matter all lives matter." Protesters moved on from downtown to Interstate 580, stopping westbound traffic for about an hour.

In Philadelphia, several hundred protesters marched through downtown yelling "No justice, no peace, no racist police!" A similar protest of about 50 people in Pittsburgh was short-lived. Activists said they planned to regroup Tuesday at the federal courthouse.

About 15 people gathered in front of the Theodore Levin United States Federal Courthouse in Detroit earlier on Monday night.

The small group prayed and joined hands in the bitter cold as they awaited the decision. Rev. Charles Williams II, senior pastor at the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church of Detroit and Michigan regional president for the National Network, said the protest was held to demand justice and call for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and prosecute Wilson.

When the verdict came down, the crowd was visibly upset, but many said they weren't surprised. "We're saying, 'No more,'" said Rev. Sylvester Davis, who has been a Detroit resident for 65 years. "We're seeing a system where black men don't matter. We're open season. It's time for us to stop this mess. We want justice and equal rights."

In Sanford, Fla., protesters were to march at the local county courthouse. Sanford is the site of the February 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African American teen, by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman. A prosecutor charged Zimmerman in the case, but a jury later acquitted him of murder and manslaughter.

In Topeka, Kan., protest organizers posted instructions on the Tumblr page of an informal group known as the Ferguson National Response Network, telling attendees to "Dress warmly Bring signs."

Immediately following the announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said the decision "does not negate the fact that Michael Brown's tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable."

The ACLU said that while many police officers "carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement."

Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, described Wilson as "a victim of a polticized agenda that deemed him guilty until proven innocent."

"Although he will walk free, his life has been forever changed, as he has been exploited in a cynical effort to turn civilians against cops in fulfillment of an anti-law enforcement agenda,'' said Hosko, a former FBI assistant director.

U.S. Conference of Mayors President Kevin Johnson, an African American who is mayor of Sacramento, said in a statement, "The nation's mayors strongly believe that there should have been open-court proceedings in the case of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown so that the evidence could have been presented in a public forum, and a verdict could have been rendered by a jury."

Johnson said the group hopes that prosecutor Robert McCulloch releases the full transcript and audio proceedings of the grand jury. "This will ensure that Michael Brown's family, as well as the community and the American public will have a greater understanding of what happened on August 9.

In Los Angeles, rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King, about 100 people gathered in Leimert Park.

Activist Najee Ali met with police last week to discuss plans for a peaceful gathering in response to the Ferguson case. Plans included having community members identify agitators" who incite violence so officers can remove them from the crowd, he said.

"It was kind of unprecedented," Ali said of the meeting. "We never collaborate with the LAPD. They do what they do, and we do what we do."