Violent protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., Monday night within minutes after demonstrators learned that a grand jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.
Demonstrators taunted police, shattered windows and set fire to two police cars. Scores of police officers, armed with riot gear, dispersed a crowd of about 300 with volley after volley of smoke bombs, pepper spray and bean bags. Looters attacked a local Walgreen store, while a Little Casears pizza restaurant was set ablaze.
The protests escalated despite efforts by Brown’s family, local authorities, activists and President Obama to tamp down unrest and anger.
Demonstrators reacted in several other cities, where police were braced for raucous protests, although they reported initially that gatherings were mostly peaceful. But the violence was concentrated in Ferguson, which was the scene of violent protests for days following Brown’s death.
Some gathered hours before the announcement in a parking lot across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. Many stood right at the edge of the lot, almost in the street, chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
One woman leading the group screamed through a bullhorn “Indict that cop. Police don’t like it. We want an indictment.”
Several young men in hooded sweatshirts reading “Peace Keepers” kept people from streaming into the street. A couple of people approached the police department building, but a woman asked them to protest the right way and pulled them into a prayer circle.
In New York, hundreds marched through Union Square holding signs saying “Jail Killing Cops” and “Resistance Is Justified.” Protesters were penned in an area at the northern end of the square, behind a ring of police officers. They pushed the metal police barriers aside and rushed towards the southern end of the square where holiday kiosks selling crafts were set up. The protesters yelled, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Protesters in Oakland, Calif., laid in the middle of an intersection in silent protest, then marched down Broadway shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “Black lives matter — all lives matter”
In Philadelphia, several hundred protesters marched through downtown yelling “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” A similar protest of about 50 people in Pittsburgh was short-lived, with activists saying they plan to regroup Tuesday at the federal courthouse.
About 15 people gathered in front of the Theodore Levin United States Federal Courthouse in Detroit earlier on Monday night. The small group prayed and joined hands in the bitter cold as they awaited the decision. Rev. Charles Williams II, senior pastor at the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church of Detroit and Michigan regional president for the National Network, said the protest was held to demand justice and call for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and prosecute Wilson.
When the verdict came down, the crowd was visibly upset, but many said they weren’t surprised. “We’re saying, ‘No more,'” said Rev. Sylvester Davis, who has been a Detroit resident for 65 years. “We’re seeing a system where black men don’t matter. We’re open season. It’s time for us to stop this mess. We want justice and equal rights.”
Elsewhere, protesters from New Haven, Conn., to Bellevue, Wash., we expected to gather, some earlier, many immediately after the announcement was made.
In Sanford, Fla., protesters were expected to march at the local county courthouse. Sanford is the site of the Feb. 12, 2012, shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African-American teen, by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman. A prosecutor charged Zimmerman in the case, but a jury in 2013 acquitted him of murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting.
In Topeka, Kansas, protest organizers posted instructions on the Tumblr page of an informal group known as the Ferguson National Response Network, telling attendees to “Dress warmly — Bring signs.”
In many cities, such as New Orleans, Nashville, Richmond, Va., Allentown, Pa., Knoxville, Tenn., and Tampa, protesters were urged to gather the day after the announcement.
Immediately following the announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on Monday night said the 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.”
The ACLU said that while many police 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.”
Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, described Wilson “a victim of a polticized agenda that deemed him guilty until proven innocent.”
“Although he will walk free, his life has been forever changed, as he has been exploited in a cynical effort to turn civilians against cops in fulfillment of an anti-law enforcement agenda,” said Hosko, a former FBI assistant director.
U.S. Conference of Mayors President Kevin Johnson, who is African-American and the mayor of Sacramento, said in a statement, “The nation’s mayors strongly believe that there should have been open-court proceedings in the case of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown so that the evidence could have been presented in a public forum, and a verdict could have been rendered by a jury.”
Johnson said the group hopes that prosecutor Robert McCulloch releases the full transcript and audio proceedings of the grand jury. “This will ensure that Michael Brown’s family, as well as the community and the American public will have a greater understanding of what happened on August 9.
In Los Angeles, which was rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, about 100 people gathered in Leimert Park, while others held a small news conference demanding police change their policies and release as quickly as the names of those killed and the names of the officers who shot them.
Activist Najee Ali said he met with police last week to discuss plans for a peaceful gathering in response to the Ferguson decision. The plans include having community members identify any “agitators” who may be inciting violence so officers can remove them from the crowd, he said.
“It was kind of unprecedented,” Ali said of the meeting. “We never collaborate with the LAPD. They do what they do, and we do what we do.”
But Ali said the group told police of their plans and police “said they’re taking a hands-off approach.” They’d be in the wings if outside agitators tried to stir up violence in the crowds.
Contributing: Kevin McCoy, Kevin Johnson, Laura Petrecca, David Jesse and Katrease Stafford, Detroit Free Press, AP
SOURCE: Greg Toppo, Yamiche Alcindor and Gary Strauss