Missouri Governor Orders More Troops as Ferguson Violence FlaresElizabeth Campbell, Toluse Olorunnipa and Andrew Harris
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered more National Guard troops to Ferguson after chaos erupted when a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenager.
Businesses were looted, police cars burned and a dozen buildings torched after prosecutors said last night that they wouldn’t charge Officer Darren Wilson in the August death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
There were 61 arrests by early today on charges including arson, burglary, unlawful assembly and trespassing, according to an e-mail from Brian Schellman, spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department. St. Louis city police said they arrested 21 people.
Criminals used the cover of protests to commit mayhem, and additional resources will be deployed tonight to maintain the peace, Sam Dotson, the St. Louis city police chief, said today during a televised press conference.
“Behavior like we saw last night with the criminal activity won’t be tolerated,” Dotson said.
The spasm of fury extended violence that since August has prompted a re-examination of law enforcement’s relationship with minorities across the U.S. The debate stretched from smoke-choked South Florissant Road in Ferguson to the White House, where President Barack Obama pleaded for calm.
The announcement of the grand jury decision was made after 8 p.m. local time to ensure children would be safe, said Ed Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch. The timing of the announcement was coordinated with law enforcement, he said.
Nixon, asked yesterday whether the announcement should be delayed until morning to avoid the element of darkness, said that the decision was the county prosecutor’s.
After the announcement, Ferguson exploded.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, joined protesters, crying as she repeated, “Y’all wrong, y’all wrong!”
By midnight, the St. Louis County Police Department reported “heavy automatic gunfire” in the area and buildings ablaze. County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a 1:30 a.m. news conference that most of the structures were complete losses.
County police said they discovered a dead man inside a parked vehicle this morning near the area. No other information, including the circumstances leading to the discovery, was available, police said.
Officers seized weapons and braced for more violence today with the help of the additional National Guard troops, Belmar said.
“I don’t think we were underprepared, but I’ll be honest with you, unless we bring 10,000 policemen in here, I don’t think we could prevent folks that really are intent on just destroying a community,” he said.
Obama said yesterday the nation must heed the decision of the St. Louis County grand jury and urged protesters to express their anger in non-violent ways and law-enforcement officers to exercise care and restraint.
“This is not just an issue for Ferguson,” Obama said at the White House minutes after the grand jury’s decision was announced. “This is an issue for America.”
The grand-jury decision that triggered the anger followed months of work. McCulloch said the panel, composed of nine whites and three blacks, began hearing evidence Aug. 20.
McCulloch said members met for 25 days and are the only people who heard every witness and examined every piece of evidence. He said many witness statements were contradicted by physical evidence.
The Aug. 9 shooting touched off days of demonstrations in the municipality of about 21,000 people, 70 percent of whom are black. As of September, 50 of the city’s 53 police officers were white.
Ferguson police deployed armored vehicles and aimed assault rifles at protesters. Protests and arrests occurred regularly in the ensuing weeks.
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Brown’s family, said in a Twitter posting yesterday that members are “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
Wilson’s lawyers said in a statement published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper that the officer was following his training and the law:
“We recognize that many people will want to second-guess the grand jury’s decision. We would encourage anyone who wants to express an opinion do so in a respectful and peaceful manner.”