Violence erupts after officer cleared of black teen's death

UPDATE: VIOLENT protests in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson have seen a police car set ablaze, tear gas and rubber bullets fired by police and a  pharmacy, pizza shop and a storage facility all set on fire. 

The protests started after a grand jury chose not to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on 9 August. 

There are also reports of looting and bricks being thrown. Protesters were said to have been told this was an illegal gathering.

Large crowds of demonstrators again chanted 'hands up don't shoot' after gathering throughout the evening at the police department in Ferguson, and outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Centre in nearby Clayton, from where St Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch finally officially announced the grand jury's decision at 8pm local time.

Crowds of protesters also gathered on the streets of New York and outside the White House in Washington in reaction to the verdict.  

EARLIER: PROTESTS have erupted in the US after a grand jury ruled that the white police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson will not be charged.

Protesters in Ferguson chanted "F--- the police" as news of the ruling came through.

A police car outside the station was destroyed and police fired tear gas at demonstrators amid the chaos.

In New York's Union Square, people knocked over barricades set up by the NYPD, while in Seattle, residents blocked intersections and formed human chains.

US President Barack Obama urged calm, but said the situation in Ferguson "speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation".

"We need to recognise that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, it is an issue for America," he said.

He said "a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities over colour" but progress would not be made by vandalising property or smashing car windows.

The grand jury chose not to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on 9 August.

Large crowds of demonstrators gathered throughout the evening at the police department in Ferguson, and outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Centre in nearby Clayton, from where St Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch finally officially announced the grand jury's decision at 8pm local time.

Praising the diligence of the grand jury in examining the case, Mr McCulloch also dismissed many of the statements made soon after the shooting by witnesses whose accounts were found to differ significantly from the physical evidence.

Some, he said, had later admitted that they did not see the shooting, but were merely recounting what they had heard from others.

Mr McCulloch also described the "insatiable" appetite of the 24-hour news cycle as a serious challenge for the grand jury process.

Earlier in the day, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon visited Ferguson and spoke at a press conference, where he was joined by other officials including St Louis County executive Charlie Dooley, St Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the state's director of public safety, Dan Isom.

"Our shared hope and expectation is that regardless of the decision, people on all sides show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint," Nixon said.

People in the St Louis area had been awaiting the news nervously, fearful of a repeat of the scenes seen on screens across the world in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, when angry demonstrators clashed with police in riot gear, who rode in armoured vehicles, fired tear gas and made dozens of arrests.

Police and protesters had both insisted they were better prepared this time, and promised to respond without violence.

The grand jury, which has been meeting weekly for three months behind closed doors, finally reached its verdict on Monday morning.

Under Missouri law, a 12-person grand jury does not need to reach a unanimous verdict, but can indict with a majority of nine to three.

The panel of six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man were asked to determine whether there was "probable cause" to indict Officer Wilson on a number of charges, ranging from involuntary manslaughter to murder. Instead, they found that "no probable cause exists to file any charge against Officer Wilson," Mr McCulloch said.

Supporters of Officer Wilson, who is 28, characterised the shooting of 18-year-old Mr Brown on Ferguson's Canfield Drive as an act of self-defence; he is believed to have testified personally to that effect in front of the grand jury, saying Mr Brown assaulted him.

Yet other witnesses insisted Mr Brown had his hands raised in surrender when the fatal shots were fired.

Ferguson's population is predominantly black, but the ranks of its police department are almost exclusively white.

The shooting set off a national debate on the attitude of law enforcement to the black community, and particularly on the multiple shootings of young, black men by police officers.

As those tensions boiled over in the summer, protesters blamed police for their military-style response, while police accused protesters of looting and violence.

Speaking to ABC News at the weekend, President Barack Obama implored protesters and police to eschew further violence in the wake of the decision.

He said he had asked the outgoing US Attorney General, Eric Holder, "to engage nationally in a conversation between law enforcement and communities of colour... Lack of trust between communities and law enforcement crops up not just in Ferguson, but in places all across the country."

A handful of protesters were arrested at small demonstrations in the days leading up to yesterday's announcement.

The protests today and in the coming days were to be policed by several law enforcement agencies, including county, state and St Louis metropolitan officers.

Governor Nixon had declared a state of emergency in readiness for the verdict, and deployed the Missouri National Guard to provide additional security at firehouses, police stations and utility substations. Ferguson schools were to be closed today.

Yet in spite of the anxieties of residents and businesspeople, many of whom boarded up their premises in anticipation of unrest, the fresh demonstrations seemed likely to be far better organised than the chaotic clashes of August.

In the intervening months, activist groups have preached peaceful tactics and trained hundreds of prospective protesters in non-violent civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, law enforcement chiefs, from Mr Holder on down, have urged police to take a more measured approach to any protests.

Wilson, a police officer since 2009, has not been seen in public since 9 August.

He has been on paid leave but is thought to have been preparing to leave the Ferguson force regardless of the grand jury's decision.

The New York Times reported yesterday that he had quietly married Barbara Spradling, a fellow Ferguson police officer, in St Louis last month.

Earlier yesterday Mr Brown's parents, Michael Brown Sr and Lesley McSpadden, asked demonstrators to observe four-and-a-half minutes of silence between the announcement of the grand jury decision and the start of any protest, to mark the four-and-a-half hours that their son's body spent lying on Canfield Drive following the shooting.

The family of Michael Brown said they are "profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child" was not indicted.

In an earlier statement they said: "We are not here to be violent.

""We are here in memory of our son. We are here for protection of all children. We are here to support justice and equality for all people. We lift our voices to ensure black and brown men, women and children can live in this country without being devalued because of the colour of our skin."

Michael Brown Sr
Michael Brown Sr

Tea Party News Network mocks spelling mistake on Michael Brown's t-shirt

Earlier, conservative commentators in the US mocked Michael Brown's father as they awaited the jury's decision.

Right-wing media have focused on an alleged brawl involving his family members over the sale of memorial T-shirts in recent days.

Mr Brown's father, Michael Brown senior, was pictured wearing one as he made an emotional plea for calm on Saturday, knocking on doors and giving out Thanksgiving turkeys as the suburb braced for more unrest.

"Everyone is suffering over this," he said. "I just feel that this was needed, so I came back to make sure that people have a nice Thanksgiving."

But the Tea Party News Network (TPNN), a conservative website calling itself an "antidote to mainstream media bias", mocked a spelling mistake on his T-shirt.

With a picture of his 18-year-old son, it reads "gone to soon", rather than "gone too soon".

The TPNN article said: "Many wondered who has been steering their actions, movements, and connections, and this simple t-shirt worn by Mike Brown, Sr. will heighten that pondered question.

"Gone to Soon? Where is Soon?

"Perhaps their handlers should tell them that they'd stand a better chance of selling t-shirts if they were grammatically correct."

Comments underneath the article included racial slurs and blamed his parents for his death.

"Wish the whole family was gone," one comment said.

Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by police in Ohio park.
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by police in Ohio park.

On Saturday, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was also black, was shot dead by police in Ohio after being spotted playing with a replica gun in a park.

Youth involved in protest ahead of decision

On Sunday night, a large, peaceful march through the city's Shaw neighbourhood ended with a speech from protest leader Josh Williams, who concluded by praising the youngest of the demonstrators: "Young people," as he described them, "aged 16 or 17 years old, fighting for justice!" A heckler pointed out that Mr Williams himself is just 18.

A recent high school graduate who can often be seen wielding a megaphone at protests, Mr Williams is one of the many young people energised by Mr Brown's death to become activists.

Since August, teens and 20-somethings have been at the heart of the protest movement over police shootings of young, black men: organising via Twitter, speaking out at council meetings or raising funds to maintain the momentum of their cause.

St Louis native Johnette Elzie, 25, began live-tweeting the demonstrations in the days after the shooting, and soon became a point of contact for those wishing to support the protesters. She has since trained in civil disobedience, and was involved in organising Sunday's march.

I"The youth are the ones who pushed this movement," Ms Elzie said.

"When they saw Mike Brown die, they saw themselves on the ground. I saw myself, I saw my brothers, everyone who looks like me. That is the fuel that has kept us going."

She added: "This is a leaderless movement. A lot of people play a part, but there's no one person in charge - other than Mike Brown."

Vincent Flewellen, 43, a St Louis teacher who attended the demonstration, said: "This has been a completely youth-led movement. They're the ones who have the passion, fire and drive. Older folks become a little bit complacent, but the youth see what's possible, and they fight for it."

He said he had been particularly impressed by the emphasis on peaceful protest.

- TIM WALKER



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