Ferguson prepares for more rioting

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Published: Wednesday 26th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Missouri’s governor ordered hundreds more state militia into Ferguson after protests and rioting over a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer over the killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old.

The case has inflamed racial tensions in the US and lawyers for the dead teenager, Michael Brown, criticised the grand jury’s decision as rigged but appealed for peace.

The decision means Officer Darren Wilson will not face any state criminal charges over the August 9 shooting, which reignited debates over relations between police and minority communities.

Mr Wilson, in an interview with ABC News, said he has a clean conscience because “I know I did my job right”.

The officer, who has been on leave since the shooting, told ABC that Mr Brown’s shooting marked the first time he had fired his gun.

Several protests broke out for a second day in the St Louis area and other cities. About 300 people marched from a park to the St Louis courthouse, chanting: “You didn’t indict. We shall fight.”

Police used pepper spray and arrested several demonstrators who blocked major intersections in St Louis.

In Ferguson, 12 commercial buildings were burned down and other businesses were looted during overnight protests following the grand jury decision, authorities said.

The protests quickly became chaotic, with demonstrators looting and setting fire to businesses and vehicles, including at least two police cars. Officers eventually lobbed tear gas from inside armoured vehicles to disperse crowds.

Governor Jay Nixon said more than 2,200 National Guardsmen – state militia – would be in place in the region near Ferguson in the event of more violence. He said hundreds more will be deployed to Ferguson.

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.

“The frustrations that we’ve seen are not about a particular incident. They have deep roots in many communities of colour who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly,” Mr Obama said.

There were 61 arrests in Ferguson after the grand jury decision, and 21 in St Louis. At least 18 people were injured, including someone who was shot and was recovering at a hospital.

Lawyers for Mr Brown’s family stressed that those setting fires and engaging in violence were not on the teenager’s side.

But they criticised everything about the grand jury process from the types of evidence St Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch presented to the jury to the way it was presented and the timing of the decision.

Lawyer Anthony Gray suggested Mr McCulloch presented some testimony, including from witnesses who did not see the shooting, to discredit the process.

The lawyers also said they hope that a federal civil rights investigation will result in charges against Mr Wilson.

The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount a prosecution.

The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.

Mr Wilson’s lawyers issued a statement praising the grand jury’s decision and saying the officer is grateful to his supporters.

“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions,” the lawyers wrote. “Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”

Authorities released more than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents, including Mr Wilson’s testimony.

Mr Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking in a street and, when he told them to move to a pavement, Mr Brown responded with an expletive.

The officer then noticed that Mr Brown had a handful of cigars, “and that’s when it clicked for me,” he said, referring to a radio report minutes earlier of a robbery at a nearby convenience store.

Mr Wilson said he asked a dispatcher to send additional police, and then backed his vehicle up in front of Mr Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Mr Wilson said Mr Brown slammed it back shut.

The officer said he pushed Mr Brown with the door and the youth hit him in the face, leading him to draw his gun and threaten to shoot him.

He said Mr Brown grabbed the gun and, fearing for his life, he fired it. Mr Brown then fled and Mr Wilson gave chase. At some point, Mr Brown turned around to face the officer.

Witness accounts were conflicted about whether Mr Brown walked, stumbled or charged back toward Mr Wilson before he was fatally wounded, Mr McCulloch said.

There were also differing accounts of how or whether Mr Brown’s hands were raised. His body fell about 153 feet from Mr Wilson’s vehicle.

Published: Wednesday 26th November 2014 by The News Editor

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