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Riot-Hit Ferguson Braces for Second Night of Unrest

  • VOA News

The midwestern U.S. town of Ferguson faced a possible second night of unrest as solidarity protests were held nationwide against a grand jury's decision to not indict a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

More than 2,000 National Guard soldiers have been deployed in Ferguson to guard against fresh racially charged riots, which broke out late Monday after it was announced that charges would not be filed against officer Darren Wilson.

No major violence was reported as of late Tuesday and the crowds appeared to be smaller than the previous evening, when over a dozen buildings were set on fire and at least 61 people arrested on a variety of charges.

The St. Louis County Police Department said via Twitter that a police car was set on fire in front of city hall. It also said that there were reports of bottles and fireworks being thrown at officers.

The family of Brown appealed for calm, as Brown's mother and father appeared Tuesday at a nationally televised news conference in a church in suburban Ferguson, alongside their lawyers and the Reverend Al Sharpton, a longtime civil rights activist.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles on Tuesday called for Missouri's governor to send more resources to the town, to prevent more destruction of property and threats to people's livelihood. Governor Jay Nixon responded by ordering nearly triple the number of troops into Ferguson, in a bid to head off another night of unrest.

President Barack Obama deplored the destructive acts, saying they are criminal and those responsible should be prosecuted; but, America's first black president said he understands that many people are upset by the grand jury decision.

He said the frustrations of the protesters have "deep roots in many communities of color who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly.''

The elder Michael Brown watches attorney Benjamin Crump speak during a news conference in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 25, 2014.

The elder Michael Brown watches attorney Benjamin Crump speak during a news conference in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 25, 2014.

At the news conference, the Brown family's legal team complained about St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullogh and the grand jury proceedings.

"This process is broken. The process should be indicted," lead attorney Benjamin Crump said, after reviewing transcripts from the grand jury proceedings that were released last night. He called it "completely unfair."

Crump complained that suspect Wilson never was cross-examined.

Another attorney for the family, Anthony Gray, said he also looked over the transcripts. In them, he said, "we saw what was presented, but we didn't hear how it was presented."

Crump also addressed the substance of a video, taken Monday evening, that showed Brown’s stepfather making incendiary remarks.

The video shows Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, standing amid a crowd and anguished after learning the grand jury’s decision. Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head – wearing a green-and-white T-shirt with the words "I Am Mike Brown" – comforts the sobbing McSpadden. Then he turns and shouts, gesturing at his surroundings, "Burn this [expletive] down."

Crump, at the news conference, said McSpannen’s reaction "was borne out of desperation and frustration after watching the decision that the killer of her unarmed child would not be brought to justice."

And Head's was "raw emotion, not appropriate at all," Crump said, adding, "Don't condemn him for being human."

But the attorney also emphasized Brown's parents did not condone violence.

Accountability sought

Sharpton, meanwhile, vowed the fight for "a new level" of police accountability will continue.

He said Brown will not be remembered for the ashes from buildings burned in Ferguson, but for "new legislation and the upholding of laws that protect citizens in the country."

Attorney Crump called for a law that would require every police officer in the United States to wear a video camera, so such cases in the future "will be transparent."

Sharpton said he and other prominent civil rights leaders have called a meeting in Washington next week to determine a strategy going forward that will include marches, legislation and economic boycotts.

Demonstrations planned

Protesters planned to demonstrate on Tuesday outside the courthouse in nearby Clayton, where the grand jury began meeting within weeks of Brown's fatal shooting August 9.

In nearby St. Louis, the police chief promised to beef up security following 21 arrests for vandalism, including broken storefront windows, on Monday evening.

"A large presence, very early on, will be a deterrent," Chief Sam Dotson said, according to Reuters news service. For Tuesday evening, "we'll have resources deployed."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights joined the calls for restraint Tuesday, urging protesters "to avoid violence and destruction" in the wake of the grand jury decision. In a statement, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said, "People have the right to express their dismay and their disagreement with the grand jury's verdict, but not to cause harm to others, or to their property, in the process."

Worst violence in months

Although no serious injuries were reported, Monday night's unrest was the worst in suburban Ferguson in months.

At least 61 people were arrested there, largely for burglary and trespassing, according to The Associated Press. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at least a dozen buildings were set on fire, most of them destroyed. He said there were no reports of injuries.

"Those are businesses that may never come back. So, frankly, I'm heartbroken about that," Belmar said.

"Now the good news is we have not fired a shot," he said. "As far as I know, we don't have any serious injuries to police officers. They got banged up a little bit with rocks. One lieutenant from the patrol got hit in the head with a glass bottle, but ... as far as I know, we haven't caused any serious injuries tonight."

Early Monday night, police used smoke and tear gas to disperse the protesters, some of whom set police cars on fire and threw objects at police. Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the neighborhood.

Firefighters on Tuesday morning continued monitoring the scene in Ferguson, dousing the charred remains of some businesses, The Associated Press reported. Though broken glass still littered the sidewalk in front of looted stores, downtown streets were calm.

Schools in Ferguson and surrounding cities cancelled Tuesday classes.

Appeal for calm

Attorney General Eric Holder said federal investigations continue into the shooting and into whether the Ferguson Police Department is engaging in unconstitutional practices.

Calling Brown's death a "tragedy," Holder said it is "far more must be done to create enduring trust" between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Accounts of August 9 shooting

Stories differed as to what happened in Michael Brown's shooting. Lawyers for Brown's family said he was trying to surrender when the officer shot him. Wilson's supporters said he shot Brown in self-defense.

Officer Wilson made his first public comments about the incident Tuesday. In a television interview with ABC, Wilson said he feared for his life during the confrontation with Brown, saying the teenager was trying to take his gun.

The officer, who has been placed on leave, said he has a clean conscience "because I know I did my job right."

McCulloch, the prosecutor, said the grand jury met for 25 days and heard 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses.

McCulloch praised the jurors for completing "this monumental responsibility," and he lauded the "unprecedented cooperation" between federal investigators and local authorities.

He said that much of the witness testimony contradicted evidence from the scene and that many witnesses later changed their stories, admitting they had not actually observed the confrontation.

The prosecutor also extended his sympathy to Brown's family over his death. McCulloch concluded his prepared remarks by saying he joined with the family, clergy and others "in urging everyone to continue the demonstrations, continue the discussion … but do so in a constructive way."

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