FERGUSON, Mo. — As night fell in Ferguson on Tuesday, authorities scrambled resources in a bid to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted in the wake of the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered additional National Guardsmen to the area, boosting their numbers from 700 to 2,200.
“We are bringing more resources to Ferguson and other parts of the region to prevent a repetition of the lawlessness experienced overnight,” the governor said. “We must do better and we will.”
Protests devolved into chaos late Monday after it was announced that the grand jury had decided not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Brown. Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Brown, a black teenager, on August 9.
In Ferguson, buildings were burned. Stores were looted and shots were fired. Activists also took to streets across the country, with more than 130 protests planned Tuesday in 37 U.S. states, D.C. and Canada.
“We are on the side of Michael Brown to fight for what is right,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in front of Brown’s family. “…. “We may have lost round one, but the fight is not over.”
The vast majority of protests in the weeks after Brown’s death have been peaceful. And authorities hope to keep it that way.
“All agree that the violence we saw in the areas of Ferguson last night cannot be repeated,” Nixon said.
‘Much worse than we saw … in August’
It started shortly before 9:30 p.m. ET (8:30 p.m. CT), with the announcement of a simple decision: Wilson, the Ferguson officer, would not be charged.
What followed were marches, chants, then violence.
Flames engulfed a row of businesses along West Florissant Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Ferguson, and a row of vehicles at a nearby dealership. Shattered glass covered asphalt outside locally-owned stores, after looters broke in and cleared off shelves. Shell casings lay on the ground, after St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said he heard more than 100 gun shots fired by unknown people.
“What we saw tonight was much worse than what we saw any night in August,” the St. Louis County police said on Facebook, referring to the days immediately after Brown’s death. “Bricks were thrown at police officers, two St. Louis County police cars were set on fire and police seized an automatic weapon.”
Authorities responded with round after round of tear gas, as well as shooting bean bags into the crowds.
Six people were treated and released between 10 p.m. Monday and 4 a.m. Tuesday at Christian Hospital in St. Louis, hospital spokesman Bret Berigan said. There were no known serious injuries.
Police in Ferguson made at least 61 arrests on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to burglary to unlawful possession of a firearm to arson.
Tuesday, the Ferguson mayor slammed the state’s governor for not deploying the National guard earlier than he did.
“Clearly last night they were needed, much earlier than what time they were deployed. It was my understanding that they would be deployed, if needed, to maintain order and protect businesses. They were not,” Mayor James Knowles told reporters.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, according to the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a pastor at nearby Florissant’s Christ the King United Church of Christ. Organizers had wanted to get their message out, but they did not want violence.
“I hurt for all the people in my community, and I hurt for the many young people who did everything they could … to make sure that last night was not violent and make sure their voices were heard,” Blackmon said. “And unfortunately, the pain and the rage of a few have made a different narrative.”
Did the grand jury get it right?
The strip malls had emptied out by midday Tuesday, and even the police department was calm.
But no one was under the belief that the tensions, or the threats of more unrest, were gone.
“People here have a real grudge against the police,” said one protester, Demetric Whitlock. “It’s not going away.”
Nor is the divergent views on what exactly happened August 9, something that the release of grand jury testimony did little to resolve.
There was a lot to delve through: 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses and three medical examiners. Ultimately, the St. Louis County grand jury of nine white and three black members appeared to side with Wilson’s view that he was defending himself against a much larger, fast-approaching aggressor.
Said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch: “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.”
Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time of the shooting, disagreed.
“I know exactly what I saw. I was there the whole time, and I definitely saw my friend stop and put his hands up,” he told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Tuesday.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the shooting, Wilson told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was sorry for the loss of life but that his conscience is clear because he was simply doing his job.
“I don’t think it’s haunting,” Wilson said. “It’s always going to be something that happened. The reason I have a clean conscience is that I know I did my job right.”
Yet Anthony Gray, one of the Brown family’s attorneys, said that if McCulloch’s office “would have presented evidence to indict, then there would have been an indictment.”
“A first-year law student would have done a better job” cross-examining Wilson than McCulloch’s staff did, said another family attorney, Benjamin Crump.
Federal investigations ongoing
Video from the New York Times recorded after the news came down about the grand jury decision showed a tearful Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, speaking briefly to supporters before being overcome by emotion. Her husband — Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head — consoles her, and then turns and revs up the crowd, saying “Burn this motherf—er down.”
The message was in contrast to a statement by McSpadden and the late teen’s biological father Michael Brown Sr., asking their supporters to “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”
“Let’s not just make noise,” the parents said, “let’s make a difference.”
The lack of an indictment has spurred “a sigh of relief across the entire law enforcement community,” said a woman who helped run a website supporting Wilson.
“Because they’re all fighting in the aftermath of this now,” said the woman, who wore sunglasses and a baseball cap to hide her identity, and asked not to be named. “And it could have been any one of them.”
Wilson’s representatives issued a statement, in which he thanked his own supporters.
“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions,” the Wilson camp said. “Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”
Wilson remains on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation, according to Mayor Knowles.
The ordeal isn’t over for the officer. There’s always the prospect of a civil wrongful death lawsuit against him. And 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.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday the federal civil rights investigation was ongoing and would be thorough and independent. Holder said he briefed President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on the situation in Ferguson and they also discussed “programmatic” initiatives that could be undertaken to address the current tensions.
Obama later announced that he and Holder would launch a series of regional meetings to discuss race and the police. He urged protesters not to resort to violence, promising to work with them.
“The problem is not a Ferguson problem; it is an American problem,” the President said.