Fires Burn As Community Feels Pain of Injustice: Dispatches from Ferguson


Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deploys National Guard troops following outpouring of community anger in response to grand jury decision not to indict police officer

Lesley McSpadden,  mother of  Michael Brown, is  escorted  away from in front of the Ferguson police department after a grand jury's decision was delivered on November 24,2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown that sparked  public protest in Ferguson, Missouri in August. 

Following Monday night’s announcement by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch that a grand jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the city of Ferguson, Missouri erupted in unrest fueled by an outpouring of emotion by those both outraged and saddened by the decision.

Dozens of fires burned buildings and cars throughout the night in Ferguson and National Guard units were ultimately deployed in the early hours of Tuesday. And the New York Times reports that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is ready to send additional soldiers to Ferguson if he deems it necessary.

While the national response to the grand jury decision included spontaneous marches in dozens of cities—including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and others—on the streets of Ferguson, in areas near the police department headquarters and in the neighborhood where Brown was killed on August 9, the anger to the news was reported as palpable and intense by those on the scene. As police officers in riot gear fired tear gas to disperse gathered crowds, some people responded to the prosecutor’s announcement by smashing windows of cars and breaking into local businesses. According to reports, approximately 29 people were arrested by law enforcement during the course of the night.

Subsequent to McCulloch’s announcement, which took place just after 8:00 PM local time (9:00 PM EST), the prosecutor’s office released a set of documents said to be the complete file from the grand jury. You can view those documents here.

As individuals and organizations responded to the news of the ‘no indictment,’ many on the streets in Ferguson reported scenes of chaos as clouds of tear gas mixed with smoke from burning cars and buildings. The sounds of what appeared to be gunfire were heard intermittently throughout the night. Local hospitals reported dozens of injuries, but no deaths, associated with the street protests and police clashes.

What follows is a mix of reporting and reaction to Monday’s announcement from community members, legal and civil rights groups, protest organizers, and journalists.

Reacting to ‘No Indictment’

Statement from Michael Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr.:

We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.

While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you 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.

Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.

Statement from NAACP president Cornell William Brooks:

The NAACP stands with citizens and communities who are deeply disappointed that the grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for the tragic death of Michael Brown, Jr. We stand committed to continue our fight against racial profiling, police brutality and the militarization of local authorities. The death of Michael Brown and actions by the Ferguson Police Department is a distressing symptom of the untested and overaggressive policing culture that has become commonplace in communities of color all across the country.   We will remain steadfast in our fight to pass the End Racial Profiling federal legislation.  And we stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters and uphold that their civil rights not be violated as both demonstrators and authorities observe the “rules of engagement.”  The grand jury’s decision does not mean a crime was not committed in Ferguson, Missouri, nor does it mean we are done fighting for Michael Brown, Jr. At this difficult hour, we commend the courage and commitment of Michael Brown’s family, as well as local and national coalition partners.

Statement by Tef Poe, co-founder of Hands Up United (h/t The Dissenter):

In this moment, we all have a choice to make. We can stand by while police and their apologists in prosecutors’ offices and city halls continue to kill, harass and criminalize our communities – or stand up in this moment to demand that our elected officials lead and finally deal with our broken policing system.

Remarks by Montague Simmons, chairperson of the Organization for Black Struggle:

We are devastated that the grand jury has failed to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown.

All this community wanted was simple justice. Wilson killed an unarmed man and should face a trial by jury. Instead, he benefited from a highly unusual grand jury process, led by a prosecutor with whom the local community pleaded to step down or be removed from the case.

Mike Brown was a young man with his entire life ahead of him. He could have been any of us. In fact, since his murder, we have seen more police killings of unarmed Black people. In the last week alone, the killings of Akai Gurley in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland have served as stark reminders that the problems with policing in Ferguson are rampant throughout the country.

Statement Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri:

The grand jury’s decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown’s tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable. While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement.

The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities. This ‘us vs. them’ policing antagonizes communities by casting a blanket of suspicion over entire neighborhoods, often under the guise of preventing crime.

To build trust, we need a democratic system of policing where our communities have an equal say in the way their neighborhoods are policed. Collaboration, transparency, and communication between police and communities around the shared goals of equality, fairness, and public safety is the path forward.

On Twitter:

A Street Level View

MSNBC: All In with Chris Hayes:

The Real News Network: “Democracy on Fire” Protestors Respond to Grand Jury’s Failure to Indict Mike Brown’s Killer

Huffington Post: Ferguson Erupts in Protests After Darren Wilson Grand Jury Announcement

The Brown family had called for peaceful protests in a statement — but not everyone assembled would heed their wishes. McCulloch’s long, combative announcement and its references to Brown’s alleged theft of cigarillos inflamed tensions. Within minutes of the news that there would be no indictment, some protesters had smashed the windows out of a police car. Others threw bricks at police guarding the station.

Law enforcement officers responded with orders to disperse. At the same time as President Barack Obama addressed the nation, the police filled the air filled with teargas, sickening protesters and journalists.

During one episode, captured by Fusion media, a woman thought to be having a heart attack was carried to a police line for assistance, but the police responded to those trying to help the woman by firing tear gas and shooting rounds from bean-bag shotguns:

The Intercept: “Burn This Shit Down”: Mayhem and Protests Engulf Ferguson

Standing outside the Ferguson Police Department headquarters, the mood of the crowd of a few thousand was initially jubilant and brimming with anticipation, but around 8 pm, when the announcement of the grand jury decision was made, all hell broke loose. Michael Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden addressed the crowd as McCullough was speaking, apparently already informed of what the decision was going to be. She broke down sobbing in tears and agony saying, “they took my baby,” and “we’re sick of this.” After that, the stepfather of Michael Brown, Louis Head, shouted through tears, “burn this shit down.” At that, some of the crowd got agitated and very aggressive with police.

Simultaneous with the announcement of the decision, St. Louis County officials released transcripts of grand jury testimony. Wilson, who is 6’4 and 210 pounds, described Brown in his testimony as “Hulk Hogan,” and stated that he looked “angry as a demon.” According to Wilson, Brown reached for his gun while he was seated in his police cruiser and said “you are too much of a pussy to shoot me.”

In front of the Ferguson Police Department headquarters, after Head’s outburst and after the grand jury decision was announced, the police took out their riot gear and formed a blockade in front of the headquarters building. There were also snipers visible on the roof of the police headquarters.

The Guardian: Ferguson ablaze after Michael Brown verdict: ‘This is a war zone now’

At 1.30am, amid escalating unrest, Chief Jon Belmar, the St Louis County police chief, told a press conference: “Unless we bring 10,000 policemen in here, I don’t think we can prevent folks that are destroying a community.”

He said police had arrested 29 people. There were no reports of deaths, but several reports of injuries. […]

A block north from where the Swat teams made their brief stop, a woman and man stood in front of a burning building, arms aloft. “This is America. I am a citizen of America,” the woman shouted. “I want justice and peace.”

She was interrupted by a man walking past. “Don’t burn this down,” he said. “Let’s go burn down their neighbourhoods.”

He didn’t say who ‘they’ were, but throughout the looting, arson and the attacks on police there was a thread that seemed to unite the protesters in their violence. Brown’s name was mentioned occasionally. Often anger was expressed with the more succinct “fuck the police”. Some of those taking part in the riots stepped aside to explain their actions.

“What is going on here is real simple,” said DeAndre Rogers Austin, 18, who was with his two younger sisters. “We told them no justice, no peace. We didn’t get our justice, so they don’t get their peace. We’re fucking shit up over here. Plain and simple.”


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