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Anger erupts in Ferguson after grand jury delines to indict police officer

Firefighters try to extinguish a burning restaurant set on fire Monday by protesters after the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case.
Firefighters try to extinguish a burning restaurant set on fire Monday by protesters after the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case.
Published Nov. 25, 2014

FERGUSON, Mo.

A grand jury declined Monday to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting by a white officer sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests and exposed deep racial tension between many African-Americans and police.

Within minutes of the announcement by St. Louis County's top prosecutor, crowds began pouring into Ferguson streets to protest the decision. Some taunted police, shattered windows and vandalized cars. Within a few hours, several buildings were ablaze, and frequent gunfire was heard. Officers used tear gas to try to disperse some of the gatherings.

Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said the jury of nine whites and three blacks met on 25 separate days and heard more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners and other experts on blood, toxicology and firearms.

He stressed that jurors were "the only people who heard every witness . . . and every piece of evidence." He said many witnesses presented conflicting statements that were inconsistent with the physical evidence.

"These grand jurors poured their hearts and soul into this process," he said.

As McCulloch was reading his statement, Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, was sitting 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.

"They wrong," she yelled, pointing toward the police officers standing outside of the station. "Y'all know y'all wrong."

The crowd with her erupted in anger, converging 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.

At least nine votes would have been required to indict Wilson. The grand jury met in secret, a standard practice for such proceedings.

Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, a defensive McCulloch repeatedly cited what he said were inconsistencies and erroneous accounts from witnesses. When asked by a reporter whether any of the accounts amount to perjury, he said, "I think they truly believe that's what they saw, but they didn't."

The prosecutor also was critical of the media, saying "the most significant challenge" for his office was a "24-hour news cycle and an insatiable appetite for something — for anything — to talk about."

Brown's family released a statement saying they were "profoundly disappointed" in the decision but asked that the public "channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen."

President Barack Obama appealed for calm and understanding, pleading with both residents and police to show restraint.

"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," Obama said. He said it was understandable that some Americans would be "deeply disappointed — even angered," but echoed Brown's parents in calling for any protests to be peaceful.

The Aug. 9 shooting inflamed tensions in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb that is patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force. As Brown's body lay for hours in the center of a residential street, an angry crowd of onlookers gathered. Rioting and looting occurred the following night, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.

Protests continued for weeks — often peacefully, but sometimes turning violent, with demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and police firing smoke canisters, tear gas and rubber bullets. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to briefly summon the National Guard.

Anger and disbelief rippled through the crowd after word came out that Wilson would not be indicted.

"Oh, my God!" a man screamed.

Outside the Ferguson Police Department, St. Louis County police used a bullhorn to order a crowd to disperse, saying it had become an unlawful assembly. Protesters defied the orders and some chanted "murderer." Minutes later, four gunshots were heard down the street.

At word of the upcoming announcement, dozens of young men and women piled into cars at Canfield Green apartment complex, where Brown was shot, and sped toward the police station.

The scene remained relatively peaceful as people continued to strain to listen to McCulloch's speech. But at one point, gunfire could be heard nearby. Police donned riot gear and stood in the street.

"It's a brotherhood. In the cop community, they stand together," said Patria Shepard, 35, a customer service representative who lives in Florissant, as she stood outside the police station. "When you are sworn in with that badge, no matter how much wrong you do, it's right."

At about 9:15 p.m., police deployed smoke on an unruly group of protesters who had gathered near the police station.

Earlier, a group bounced a St. Louis County Police car. Others threw chairs through the front windows of El Palenque Mexican restaurant.

In the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis, site of the shooting death last month of VonDerrit Myers Jr., 18, by an off-duty police officer, about 18 people listened to the announcement on a car radio parked in front of a memorial to Myers.

Two people in the crowd were sisters, Natalie and Cynthia Hill. Upon hearing the no-charge announcement, Natalie loudly proclaimed: "You'd rather go to war than hold one cop accountable."

Briana Bobo, 25, of the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin, stood outside the police station with tears in her eyes. "It seems that nothing that we do matters," she said. "We can't win for losing."

Information from the St. Loiuis Post-Dispatch and New York Times was used in this report.

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