The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How the rest of the world reacted to the Ferguson verdict

A demonstrator sits in front of a street fire in Oakland, Calif., during a demonstration following the grand jury decision in the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown on Nov. 25. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by police officer Darren Wilson has made the Midwestern U.S. city a focal point for the world's media. It shone a spotlight on what the world perceived to be America's deep, entrenched problems — and in many cases, made the world feel better about their own.

On Tuesday, following the news that a grand jury would not indict Wilson for the shooting of Brown, protests erupted in the city. Cars were set ablaze and stores looted. Police fired tear gas and protesters shouted "don't shoot," the rallying cry of the protests.

For enemies and friends around the world who had been following the case for months, the night was further proof of the maladies affecting America. And while the shock of seeing scenes in America that look like they should be from the Arab Spring and the Ukraine crisis may have dissipated, the broader questions about what this means for American society have not.

British news outlets covered the night extensively: In the past few months, a number had sent war correspondents to cover the violent protests and the militarized police response. "Race tensions flare as officer is cleared," ran the headline on the Times of London's Web site, featuring a picture of protesters kicking the window of a St. Louis police car. The BBC noted that the violence seemed to be "much worse" than in August when the protests began. The broadcaster also posted an explainer on the grand juries, pointedly explaining why the system was "controversial" to readers.

The parallels between the Ferguson protests and international conflict areas were highlighted by the Guardian, which ran it's story under the headline ‘This is a war zone now.’ At the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid with a left-wing bent, one journalist says he was threatened by protesters:

As gangs of youths took to the streets armed with guns, knives and explosives, the Mirror's US Editor Christopher Bucktin was given a chilling warning.
A rioter said: "Leave now or you'll be joining Mike -- dead. If our bullets don't get you, our bricks will"

In Germany, the criticism was harsher. The conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argued that the underlying reasons for the violence in Ferguson are deep in American society. "The fact that racism exists in America is indisputable — but this racism is not only directed in one direction," the paper wrote.

"Potentially the Grand Jury has indeed examined all evidence comprehensively and impartially. But the fact that so many people between New York and Los Angeles are convinced that justice has not been administered is another tragedy," the paper wrote. "Gestures of respect and reconciliation will be indispensable to bridge the gap between the police and America's black population. But even that will not be enough."

Its left-leaning competitor, Frankfurter Rundschau, made a similar argument: "The Grand Jury's decision has not surprised anyone — which explains the full cynicism of this system."  The newspaper blamed the grand jury for having looked at the evidence with a white worldview. "Secret hearings do by far not meet serious interpretations of the rule of law." Berlin-based Die Welt newspaper called the inevitability of violence as a reaction to yesterday's grand jury decision painful: "Racial tensions are inevitable in a country where a paramilitary over-equipped police force fights protesters that could be compared to guerrilla fighters."

France's leftist Liberation newspaper took a similar focus. "A predominantly white jury chooses not to pursue another white, accused of murdering a black in a predominantly black city," the newspaper wrote, concluding that Ferguson raises yet again the question of racism and police brutality in the United States.

The paper's centrist competitor Le Monde was equally concerned about Ferguson's segregation. "Michael Brown's death had highlighted a racial divide in a city which is undergoing a demographic transition and where blacks are now majority, while municipal institutions remain dominated by whites," the paper writes. "This divide will only grow with the decision of the grand jury, particularly because city officials were unable to convince with their arguments so far."

In France, the situation also saw a political reaction, with Justice Minister Christiane Taubira also wading into the controversy:

Closer to home, the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail wondered what was next for their neighbor. "After Ferguson, America’s conversation about race has only just begun," an op-ed in the paper read. The same paper had previously used the events in Ferguson to marvel at how effective its own policing was in comparison. "The sad events in the St. Louis suburb give us the opportunity to ponder how we do things differently, and to realize how comparatively well things work here," David Butt, a lawyer writing for the paper, explained in August.

In India, a reporter for NDTV, the cable news channel, said that “the case epitomized race crimes in America” and that the photos of protesters evoking the images from Tiananmen Square were a  “symbol of the challenge the greatest nation on Earth faces today.” 

While there was often a hint of schadenfreude in the coverage of Ferguson from America's allies, in the countries with which the U.S. has a more adversarial relationship, it was hard to miss the glee in the coverage. Many have used the event to criticize America for meddling in other country's affairs, when it evidently has so much trouble at home.

As The Post's Karoun Demirjian has pointed out, Russian media has used Ferguson as a tool to criticize America, with one Web site labeling Ferguson's crisis as "AfroMaidan" back in August (a reference to Ukraine's Euromaidan protests) and saying that Americans have "prejudice towards African Americans … in their blood.”

After the grand jury's verdict, the criticism has become even harsher. “So the U.S. government, when talking about their own country, forgets about democracy, human rights, protection of ‘peaceful protesters’ and people’s right to protest,” Russian news outlet proclaimed on its Web site Tuesday. “As they say, the United States – it’s a completely different matter.”

“The conflict in Ferguson isn’t momentary, but deep,” Alexander Khristenko reported on state-run television channel Russia 24 on Tuesday. “Race relations, social inequality, the black ghetto – a fragile world that had faith in at least some kind of justice, it appears, has finally collapsed.”

In Turkey, a country that has seen its own heavy-handed response to protests criticized by the international community, there were reports that the country's official press agency Andalou News had sent war correspondents to Ferguson. A journalist from the same agency had been arrested while covering the protests in August.

Iran's state-owned Press TV ran stories that focused on the protests in 90 other U.S. cities, which it noted started "after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said that white police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted and that he would not even face charges for killing the unarmed African American." In the past, Iranian lawmakers had asked their military to condemn "rights abuses" in Ferguson, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, took to Twitter to criticize the U.S.

So far, North Korea has not responded to the latest developments in the Ferguson case, though in the past it has resorted to exceptionally bellicose language to describe the situation. In August, official state news agency KCNA said that the U.S. had become "a laughing stock of the world" following the problems in Ferguson. "The U.S. had better honestly accept the unanimous accusations of the broad international community and mind its own business," KCNA said in its August commentary, "instead of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries."

In China, a similar but more subtle approach has been taken. Most media outlets have stuck to reporting the bare bones facts, and China's Foreign Ministry took the opportunity to take the moral high ground Tuesday.

“The case you mention is a U.S. internal affair. As the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry I will make no comment on that,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a press briefing, according to the Wall Street Journal. “But I would like to say that there’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to human rights regardless of whatever country you're in,” Hua added. “We have to improve the record of human rights and promote the cause of human rights. We can learn from each other in this area.”

Ferguson also gained the attention of the United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who released a statement asking that U.S. authorities review the "deep and festering" distrust in the country after the shooting and grand jury decision. Brown's father had recently traveled to the U.N. in Geneva to ask the international body to put pressure on the U.S. government for their handling of the case. And, as Colby Itkowitz notes at In The Loop, even followers of the Islamic State on social media have been using criticism of the U.S. handling of Ferguson as a recruitment tool.

Perhaps the most interesting outside view of Ferguson came from an American outlet, however. A number of Twitter users have pointed to the difference in the headlines run on CNN's domestic Web site and their international version, and the revealing discrepancy between them.