With no indictment, chaos fills Ferguson streets

2014-11-25 22:27
A man walks past a burning police vehicle during clashes between police and protesters over the decision in the shooting death 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. (Jewel Samad, AFP)

A man walks past a burning police vehicle during clashes between police and protesters over the decision in the shooting death 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. (Jewel Samad, AFP)

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Ferguson - Enraged protesters set fire to buildings and cars and looted businesses in Ferguson after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the death an unarmed black 18-year-old - one of America's most racially charged cases in recent years.

Smoke billowed from some businesses on Tuesday morning and shattered glass covered the sidewalks in front of others, but the streets in Ferguson were mostly clear.

There were 61 arrests in Ferguson overnight, many for burglary and trespassing, St Louis County Police spokesperson Brian Schellman said. St Louis Mayor Francis Slay said there were 21 arrests in the city, where some protesters broke business windows.

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.

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

"They are the only people that have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence," he said, adding that the jurors "poured their hearts and soul into this process".

Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, a defensive McCulloch repeatedly cited what he said were inconsistencies and erroneous witness accounts.

McCulloch never mentioned that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.

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 the announcement, authorities released more than 1 000 pages of grand jury documents, including Wilson's testimony.

Wilson told jurors that he initially 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 then noticed that 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 said he asked a dispatcher to send additional police, and then backed his vehicle up in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Wilson said Brown slammed it back 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 not to 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,'" Wilson told grand jurors. He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right hand, twisted it and "digs it into my hip".

Asked why he felt the need to pull his gun, Wilson told grand jurors he was concerned another punch to his face 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 were conflicted about whether Brown walked, stumbled or charged back toward Wilson before he was fatally wounded, McCulloch said. There were also differing accounts of how or whether Brown's hands were raised. His body fell about 47m from Wilson's vehicle.

Thousands of people rallied - mostly peacefully - in other US cities on Monday night while the president appealed for calm.

"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 angered, but echoed Brown's parents in calling for peaceful protests.

About 10 St Louis-bound flights were diverted or cancelled on Monday night because of concern about gunfire being aimed into the sky, a Lambert-St Louis International Airport spokesperson said, but the restrictions expired at 03:30.

The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount a prosecution. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.

Brown's family could also file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wilson.

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

Read more on:    michael brown  |  us  |  us shootings

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