The US was left holding its breath last night, waiting for violence to explode back onto the streets of Ferguson in Missouri.
It seemed an almost inevitable, tragic lament to the death of black teenager Michael Brown as the police officer who killed him in a hail of six bullets last August learned he would not be indicted by a Grand Jury over the 18-year-old’s death.
Overnight, initially about 300 protesters, angry about the decision, began to overturn barricades and swarmed the steps of the federal courthouse, chanting, “You didn’t indict. We shall fight.”
Trouble erupted earlier as news first filtered through around 2:30am UK time yesterday, enough for Missouri Govenor Jay Nixon to order additional members of the National Guard back into Ferguson last night, mostly to help protect the embattled Ferguson Police Department.
Several buildings were burned down as demonstrators smashed store windows in downtown St Louis. More than 80 people were arrested. Few believed they would be the last.
Firefighters doused the blackened remains of some businesses. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames. About 10 St Louis-bound flights were diverted or cancelled because of concern about gunfire being aimed into the sky.
At least 14 people were injured. Local schools cancelled classes out of concern about the safety of children.
The violence erupted despite pleas for calm from President Barack Obama and the family of the victim, Michael Brown, after prosecutors announced the officer faces no state criminal charges. But their grief was clear.
Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said witnesses gave the Grand Jury inconsistent accounts of the shooting, including whether Brown’s hands were raised and whether he was stumbling or charging toward the police officer, Darren Wilson.
As McCulloch read his statement, 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.
The crowd with her then converged on the barricade where police in riot gear were standing. They pushed down the barricade and began pelting police with objects, including a bullhorn.
Officers stood their ground. Brown’s family released a statement, saying they were “profoundly disappointed,” but asked that the public “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change”.
Shortly after, authorities released more than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents, including Wilson’s testimony.
Lawyers for Michael Brown’s family had called for a special prosecutor. Attorney Benjamin Crump said: “We object publicly and as loudly as we can on behalf of Michael Brown Jr’s family that this process is broken. We have the local prosecutor who has a symbiotic relationship with the local police and the local police officers. We could see what the outcome was going to be.”
The Rev Al Sharpton, counselling the family, said: “You have broken our hearts but you have not broken our backs.”
Wilson’s lawyers issued a statement praising the decision. It said: “Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions. Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”
Wilson, who remains on desk duty, told the jury he 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 saw 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 called for back-up, and drove in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Wilson slammed it 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 to not 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’.”
Asked why he felt the need to pull his gun, Wilson said he was concerned another punch 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.
Witness accounts conflict on whether Brown walked, stumbled or charged toward Wilson before he was fatally wounded, His body fell 153 feet from Wilson’s vehicle. No probable cause, the Grand Jury ruled. “We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” President Obama said.
As tensions continued to mount, there seemed little prospect of that.
How a town was plunged into chaos in wake of tragic shooting
9 AUGUST Police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown have a confrontation in the town of Ferguson, ending with the black teenager dying after being shot six times by the policeman.
10 AUGUST Businesses are ransacked and stores set on fire as looting breaks out. Two police officers are hurt and 32 people arrested.
11 AUGUST Brown’s mother calls for calm. Riot gear-wearing police use tear gas to tackle protests.
12 AUGUST President Barack Obama urges an end to violence. Police use more tear gas against protesters.
14 AUGUST Governor Jay Nixon puts the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge of security, led by Captain Ron Johnson, an African-American from the area.
15 AUGUST Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson identifies Wilson as the officer who shot Brown. Video released of a robbery at a shop minutes before the shooting that shows Brown shoving a store clerk.
16 AUGUST Nixon declares a state of emergency and curfew.
20 AUGUST St Louis County grand jury begins hearing evidence. National Guard withdraws.
25 AUGUST Michael Brown’s funeral takes place.
3 September The state of emergency in Ferguson ends.
23 OCTOBER Amnesty International slams police handling of protests.
17 NOVEMBER Nixon declares a state of emergency.
24 NOVEMBER Grand jury give their decision.
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