25 Nov 2014

Ferguson braced for more unrest after night of violence

A night of rioting follows a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer over the killing of black teenager Michael Brown. More National Guard reinforcements are being drafted in.

Channel 4 News’s Washington Correspondent Kylie Morris on the scene in Ferguson, Missouri

At least 61 people were arrested in Ferguson, the St Louis suburb where the teenager was shot in August, and the unrest spread beyond Missouri, with protests held in New York, Washington DC and Chicago. There were also demonstrations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland and California.

Below: explore the protests against the Ferguson decision across the US in the Channel 4 News clickable map.

Officers in Ferguson said they heard around 150 shots fired on Monday night, some of which were also witnessed by Channel 4 News Washington Correspondent Kylie Morris. According to police, none were fired by their officers. St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar also said that at least a dozen buildings were set alight.

Police fired tear gas and flash-bang canisters at the protesters who gathered on the streets to hear the grand jury’s decision. Some reacted angrily at the announcement that no probable cause was found to indict the police officer.

“Murderers, you’re nothing but murderers,” one woman shouted through a megaphone at officers clad in riot gear on Monday night.

The killing of Michael Brown, who was said to be trying to surrender to Darren Wilson when he was shot dead, as well as the police response to protesters in its immediate aftermath, brought deep-seated tension to the surface across the USA.

Wilson could have been charged with first or second degree murder, as well as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter over the killing. Following the decision not to indict him on any of the available charges, Brown’s family said through their lawyers that they were “profoundly disappointed”.

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the family said in a statement.

‘Worst night’

What followed was, according to the police, the worst night of rioting since 18-year-old Brown’s death, with officers saying they were pelted with rocks, bottles, batteries and other debris. However, the Channel 4 News correspondent reported that some areas of the town remained relatively calm and no serious injuries to officers were reported.

Flights over the area were restricted and police struggled to contain protesters who took to the streets, smashing shop windows and torching cars and businesses, despite President Barack Obama‘s calls for restraint. According to police, people were arrested on suspicion of offences ranging from unlawful assembly to arson and burglary.

The decision not to charge Wilson was met with condemnation from prominent figures in American culture.

Read Kylie Morris: What began with the death of Michael Brown is not over yet

As a society how do we do better and stop things like this happening time after time!! I’m so sorry to these families. Violence is not the answer people. Retaliation isn’t the solution as well. #PrayersUpToTheFamilies #WeHaveToDoBetter

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on Nov 11, 2014 at 7:06pm PST

Wilson’s lawyers said that he was following his training and the law when he shot Brown.

“We recognise 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,” a statement read.

The US president called for protesters to remain peaceful and for police to show restraint. “We need to recognise that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. In too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between police and communities of colour,” Barack Obama told the nation.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called up the National Guard ahead of the ruling. The pre-emptive move was criticised as unnecessarily heavy-handed. It followed a tough response to protests in the immediate aftermath of Brown’s killing. Police were accused of acting like a military force after responding with tear gas and rubber bullets, enraging protesters.

The grand jury began meeting in late August and heard testimony from 60 witnesses called by the prosecution, including medical examiners who performed three autopsies, one by a private pathologist hired by Brown’s family.

“They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against officer Wilson,” St Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch told reporters. A separate federal investigation into the shooting is continuing.

Read more: Timeline - the shooting of Michael Brown


McCulloch described a tangled mass of conflicting testimony from 60 witnesses about what happened during the incident that led to Brown’s death, but said much of it did not square with the physical evidence.

Lawyers for Brown’s family say the teen was trying to surrender when he was shot, while Wilson’s supporters say the officer feared for his life and opened fire in self-defence.

Witnesses disagreed on whether Brown’s hands were up at the time he was shot, McCulloch said, adding that Wilson shot at Brown 12 times. The final shot hit Brown in the top of his head.

Brown is suspected of having stolen cigars from a nearby convenience store shortly before the incident. Police said in August that Wilson was not aware of the robbery at the time.