Tuesday, November 25, 2014

After Violent Night in Ferguson, State Triples National Guard Presence
Ferguson police car rocked by demonstrators on Nov. 24, 2014.
NOV. 25, 2014

FERGUSON, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri said on Tuesday that he would triple the number of National Guard troops in this suburban St. Louis city and broadly expand their role in keeping the peace, after a night of arson, looting and rampaging demonstrators showed that weeks of preparation for a grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown had failed to prevent violence.

In Washington, St. Louis and Ferguson itself, an array of public officials, community leaders and clergy were deeply critical of one another as they sought to explain how protests over the grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer in the shooting had spun further out of control than the unrest that followed the death in August of Mr. Brown, who was black.

“What they’ve gone through is unacceptable,” Mr. Nixon said, appearing frustrated at a news conference in St. Louis as business owners along two commercial strips in Ferguson began sweeping up broken glass and trying to assess losses. One of the streets, West Florissant Avenue, a main thoroughfare not far from where the shooting took place, was still smoky on Tuesday and cordoned off by police.

“No one should have to live like this,” Mr. Nixon said. “No one deserves this.”

Officials had been unwilling to provide details about the number of troops when Mr. Nixon first called up the Missouri National Guard last week in advance of the grand jury announcement, but it was clear that he wished to send a precise and powerful message on Tuesday. More than 2,200 members of the guard, he said, could be expected in and around this city on Tuesday evening, protecting homes and businesses. A night earlier, the guard’s role had been largely limited to protecting government buildings, including a police command post.

President Obama opened a speech in Chicago by talking about Ferguson, saying that he had ordered Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to undertake a major review of policing practices in the United States, including a community-by-community process of identifying and highlighting specific steps to “make sure that law enforcement is fair and is being applied equally to every person in this country.”

But the president, even as he acknowledged that many people felt anger and frustration that Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted, condemned the rioting and looting that followed.

“To those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence, I do not have any sympathy for that,” Mr. Obama said. For those working to make change, he added, “I want to work with you and I want to move forward with you.”

Officer Wilson, who has not appeared in public since the shooting, said Tuesday in his first interview that he had a “clean conscience” about what happened because “I know that I did my job right.” In the interview, with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Mr. Wilson said he would not have done anything differently. Asked whether he would have handled the situation the same if Mr. Brown were white, he said yes.

In describing the initial confrontation, the officer said Mr. Brown had punched him. What followed, the officer said, was “a barrage of swinging and grabbing and pulling for about 10 seconds.” He said he was instantly aware of the size of Mr. Brown, who was about 6-foot-4. “I felt the immense power that he had,” said Officer Wilson, who said in his grand jury testimony that he is nearly 6-foot-4.

In dozens of rallies across the country on Tuesday afternoon, including in Baltimore, Washington and New York, protesters railed against the decision not to indict Officer Wilson. In Chicago, about 100 protesters, most in their 20s, gathered for a 28-hour sit-in outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. Organizers said they had chosen the time frame based on a study that one black person was killed in the United States by the police or armed vigilantes every 28 hours.

More than a dozen buildings in Ferguson, Mo., were significantly damaged in the rioting that followed the announcement that Darren Wilson, a white police officer, would not be indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

A large crowd in Cleveland blocked a major intersection. In Pittsburgh, a stream of marchers carried signs reading “Disarm the police” and “Stop racist terror,” while in Atlanta, Morehouse College students walked from the campus to a rally outside CNN headquarters. In Minneapolis, a rally was disrupted when a car hit several protesters.

The violence in Ferguson on Monday came despite more than three months of preparations by some activists and law enforcement authorities who had hoped that demonstrations could be kept peaceful even if the grand jury chose not to indict Officer Wilson. But nearly all of those plans fell short, one by one. On all sides, there were complaints and blame.

“They didn’t act on what they put into place — they being the protesters, they being police, they being people that were on the front line,” said Carlton Lee, the president in Ferguson of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Some said that the police, who had responded with too much military-style force in August, seemed on Monday night to be very restrained, even as stores were looted and fires were set. And protest leaders, who had pledged that they would carry out militant but nonviolent shows of anger, appeared unable to rein in those with more violent ideas.

“People who try to stop these things are heroes, in my mind,” Mr. Holder said in remarks to reporters. “I was disappointed that some members of the community resorted to violence.”

Many here, including some political leaders, questioned the decision by Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, to announce the grand jury’s finding in a lengthy news conference on Monday night — rather than waiting for sunrise — and to forego giving a 24-hour notice that the Brown family had hoped to receive.

“There is no good time,” said Ed Magee, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, defending the release of the grand jury’s decision at close to 8:30 p.m. Central time, when the streets of St. Louis were dark and demonstrators had already massed in front of the Ferguson Police Department. He called criticism of the timing “obviously not fair,” and added, “There’s no guarantee that things were going to be good no matter when you did it.”

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Mr. McCulloch, alone, decided the timing of the announcement, and did not notify in advance some state officials, such as Mr. Nixon, that the grand jury had come to a decision, Mr. Magee said. “We haven’t had any contact with the governor’s office,” he said.

 As news of the decision spread, protesters surged forward, throwing objects at officers in riot gear. The sound of gunfire could be heard. 2  Police officers used tear gas and smoke to disperse people who were hurling rocks and breaking the windows of parked police cruisers. A vehicle was set on fire. 3  At least a dozen buildings were set on fire around the city, many in the vicinity of Ferguson Market and Liquor, the store Michael Brown was in before he was killed by Officer Wilson.

Mixed signals came from Mr. Brown’s family on Monday. Early in the evening, they issued a statement calling for a peaceful reaction to the grand jury’s decision. But later that night, as the decision was announced, Mr. Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, grew emotional outside the Ferguson police station, yelling, “Burn this bitch down!”

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Brown family, said in a news conference that he condemned “violence and looting from last night, but we also condemn violent acts that killed Michael Brown.” Asked whether the family will pursue a lawsuit, Mr. Crump has said he was considering all options.

Residents and business owners along the streets in Ferguson expressed frustration and fear at what occurred on Monday night. For weeks, the authorities here had worked to assure them that the region would be ready for whatever was ahead.

“They abandoned us completely,” said Rob Chabot, the owner of Mobile Eye Care Solutions, along South Florissant Road, where episodes of violence flared on Monday. “They sacrificed Ferguson. For what cause? I don’t know.”

In a news conference here, James Knowles III, the mayor of Ferguson, was also critical of the state’s response. “Unfortunately, as the unrest grew and further assistance was needed, the National Guard was not deployed in enough time to save all of our businesses,” he said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the police reported that there had been 21 fires in and around Ferguson, at least 150 gunshots and damage to 10 police cruisers. At times, officials said, firefighters had to retreat from battling fires because of gunfire and objects being thrown all around.

Just as law enforcement officials were criticized for being too aggressive in August, they were facing questions on Tuesday over whether their approach this time was too tame. Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police and other officials defended their response, saying they took steps to de-escalate the situation but that the magnitude of the violence was beyond their ability to control it.

Chief Belmar said the initial, hands-off tactics by the police were intended to allow protesters to demonstrate peacefully, but he said that the situation ultimately grew so unstable that it required a more forceful approach.

“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 can prevent folks that really are intent on destroying a community,” he said. But he admitted that despite months of preparation and training, and a buildup of manpower, equipment and technology, he had not foreseen the chaos that ultimately unfolded.

Among the more than 60 people arrested, on various charges including second-degree burglary and arson, most were Missouri residents — a shift, some here said, from the unrest of the summer.

“In August, we talked about how the out-of-towners came in and tore up our community,” said Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “Well, our community has got to take some responsibility for what happened tonight.”

Many, too, blamed protest groups for failing to restrain people whose plans went far beyond the peaceful protests promised in weeks past. In the days leading up to grand jury’s announcement, the police and some protest leaders had agreed to numerous “rules of engagement” to allow demonstrators to peacefully assemble and have their say. But those rules seemed to vanish on Monday night.

Reporting was contributed by Jack Healy, Julie Bosman, John Eligon, Alan Blinder and Mitch Smith from Ferguson, and Matt Apuzzo from Washington.

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