Violence flares in Ferguson after grand jury decision

A US grand jury decided against charging a white police officer in the death an unarmed, black teenager whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of violent protests.

Protestors gesture in front of a car repair store in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, 24 November 2014. The grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in August sparked riots in the city. Tannen Maury / EPA
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FERGUSON // Smoke billowed from burnt-out buildings and sidewalks were strewn with broken glass in Ferguson, Missouri, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the killing of unarmed black 18-year-old in one America’s most racially charged cases in recent years.

Firefighters doused the blackened remains of some businesses on Tuesday and at least one building was still ablaze. Some Ferguson stores that weren’t burnt had smashed display windows, but the streets of the St. Louis suburb were mostly clear.

Monday night’s destruction appeared to be much worse than protests after August’s shootings, with more than a dozen businesses badly damaged or destroyed. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames.

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

At least 14 people were injured during the overnight protests, including two people who were admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries. That hospital treated and released five people and Saint Louis University Hospital treated and released another. Several other hospitals didn’t immediately respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment.

Meanwhile, many Ferguson-area districts cancelled classes out of concern about the safety of getting children to and from school.

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 witnesses had given 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. Authorities later released Mr Wilson’s own account of the shooting, in which he said Brown had punched him in the face and tried to grab his gun.

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

As Mr 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.

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 Mr Wilson’s testimony.

Mr Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking in a street and, when he told them to move to a pavement, 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.

Mr 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. Mr Wilson told grand jurors he was thinking: “What do I do not to get beaten inside my car.”

“I drew my gun,” Mr Wilson told the grand jury. “I said, ‘Get back or I’m going to shoot you.’

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, Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Wilson before he was fatally wounded, Mr McCulloch said. There were also differing accounts of how or whether Brown’s hands were raised.

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,” Mr 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 Monday night because of concern about gunfire being aimed into the sky, but the restrictions expired at 3:30am.

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 to mount a prosecution. The August 9 shooting heightened tensions in the predominantly black suburb that is patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force.* Associated Press