FERGUSON, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vowed to crack down Tuesday on “criminals” he said had unleashed a night of violence here on Monday, pouring in more than 2,200 National Guard troops amid criticism that he had not done enough to quell the rioting.
At an afternoon news conference, a stern Nixon (D) said an additional 1,500 troops would supplement the 700 who had been on hand Monday after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. He said the Missouri National Guard’s rapid response team “will be positioned to be ready to act at a moment’s notice if challenges arise.’’
The embattled governor lashed out at protesters over the wave of outrage Monday night that left at least two police cars and a a dozen buildings torched and the entire region on edge. “Last night, criminals intent on lawlessness and destruction terrorized this community,’’ he said. “I am deeply saddened for the people of Ferguson who woke up this morning to see parts of their community in ruins.’’
Despite the crackdown, Nixon could not escape recriminations for Monday night’s destruction. Earlier Tuesday, Ferguson’s mayor criticized state officials, accusing them of sending in troops too late to prevent the violence and calling for tougher tactics Tuesday night.
“The National Guard was not deployed in time to save all of our businesses,” Mayor James Knowles said at a separate news conference. “Many of our residents are cleaning their businesses and wondering, ‘what happens tonight?’”
Nixon declined to address the criticism.
The smoldering tensions spoke to the divisions caused at multiple levels by the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, which triggered a frank national dialogue about race and police tactics against African-Americans.
A grand jury — convened in August — announced Monday that it had decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. The decision means that Wilson, 28, will face no state charges for the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
In another development that could trigger anger among demonstrators, Knowles said “nothing has changed” about Wilson’s status and that the officer remains on paid leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Ferguson’s police chief has said the six-year officer is unlikely to return to the force, and news reports have said negotiations are underway for his departure.
Wilson, for his part, broke his silence over the tragic events in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, saying he had done nothing wrong. The officer said Brown had charged toward him and reached into his squad car to grab his gun, leaving him no choice but to fire the fatal shots.
Wilson told ABC he was sorry that Brown had died but said he would not do anything differently and has a clean conscience.
Following Monday night’s violence, residents and business owners turned out first thing Tuesday morning with brooms, power drills, table saws and plywood to clean up the normally picturesque strip of brick sidewalks and old-fashioned light poles – Ferguson’s little downtown -- where police headquarters is located. This was the equivalent of a community barn-raising, only rather than focus on one structure, these volunteers did a bit of work at about a dozen commercial addresses that had suffered mainly smashed windows by protesters the night before.
“This is our way of kind of coping,” said resident Chris Shanahan, who was part of a crew of more than a dozen sawing and fastening plywood to openings where the windows used to be on a former bar and grill, recently purchased by the owner of a nearby café. “It’s therapeutic. We know the work that needs to be done. Somebody has to pick up the pieces.”
Ricardo Flores wielded a tape measure beside Shanahan. Just a few hours before, everyone had been at work over at Flores’s Mexican restaurant, El Palenque, where a window was smashed. Now he was returning the favor.
“We are family,” Flores said. “What happens to one, happens to all.”
On South Florissant Avenue, people said they felt fortunate compared to residents and business owners who depend on West Florissant Avenue, a less prosperous area closer to where Brown was shot. Several buildings were torched there Monday night. Some of those businesses have now been hit three times since the killing.
“They are minority business owners,” said Andrea James, a resident of the South Florissant area, walking between storefronts with a broom and a garbage bag. “They employed minorities. Where are school kids going to get jobs anymore?... I don’t think the economy [of Ferguson] will ever come back.”
Overall on Monday night, an estimated 25 fires were set overnight. Among the buildings lost: a pizza shop, beauty supply store and two auto parts outlets.
Looters ducked through the broken glass of a market whose display windows were boarded up as a precaution in advance of the grand jury decision. The messages on the plywood: “We’re Open.”
“Those are dreams,” Ron Johnson, a Missouri State Highway Patrol captain, told the Associated Press. “Those are small-business owners, and we’ve torn those dreams away.”
But protesters claim that their concerns over aggressive policing — sometimes described as military-style tactics — have been cast aside. The grand jury decision, many believe, denies a chance for a full reckoning over Brown’s death. A separate Justice Department civil rights probe is ongoing, but law enforcement officials have said it is unlikely to result in charges.
“It’s legal to kill unarmed black men in America!” shouted a man known as T. Dubb as he stood on top of a car Monday night with a gas mask slung over his baseball cap.
In the background, a crowd shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” which has become a rallying cry for the demonstrations. Near a “Seasons Greetings” light display, police fired tear-gas canisters.
In a video, Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, cried out to supporters to “burn” the area in revenge — comments later described by backers as an emotional outburst and not a call for arson.
More than 80 people were arrested in Ferguson and nearby St. Louis, officials said. Area hospitals reported at least 14 injures.
“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
“Unfortunately, this spun out of control,” added Belmar, even as protests in sympathy with Brown broke out around the country.
In New York, marchers briefly shut down the Triborough and Brooklyn bridges. Across the country in Oakland, protesters evaded a police barricade and blocked traffic on Interstate 580.
In Washington, D.C., crowds chanted Brown’s name along U Street, a centerpiece of African American culture in the capital. Later, at least 400 protesters gathered in front of the White House.
Reports of gunfire into the air in Ferguson forced the Federal Aviation Administration to cancel or divert some flights into Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The restrictions were lifted a few hours before dawn.
“Citizens, go home,” police standing on West Florissant Avenue said over a loudspeaker as fire crews battled blazes.
But some community leaders and others complained that police — apparently trying to avoid escalating confrontations — did not send in enough force to protect property.
“I know how outraged and upset people are, but where’s the justice in this?” said Rosalind Hagedorn, a homemaker who came out to join the demonstration in front of police headquarters on South Florissant Road, a main commercial strip in Ferguson.
She pointing at a Beauty World shop with smashed windows. “I understand the emotion, but these people did nothing,” she said.
Though many in St. Louis expected that Wilson would not be indicted, officials here faced a challenge in trying to provide rationale for that decision.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, during a news conference, emphasized that testimony varied sharply among eyewitnesses and made it difficult to have a clear account of what unfolded during the 90-second confrontation between Wilson and Brown on Canfield Drive.
“Some witnesses maintained their original statement that Mr. Brown had his hands in the air and was not moving toward the officer when he was shot,” McCulloch said. “Several witnesses said Mr. Brown did not raise his hands at all or that he raised them briefly and then dropped them and then turned toward Officer Wilson, who then fired several rounds.”
A statement from Wilson’s attorneys released shortly after the grand jury announcement said that officers must sometimes make “split-second and difficult decisions” and that Wilson “followed his training and followed the law.” The statement didn’t mention Brown.
For more than three months, the grand jury — made up of seven men and five women, nine white and three black — heard evidence on the shooting. They met 25 times and heard from 60 witnesses, McCulloch said.
They considered charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter. In a criminal trial, jurors must decide a crime has been committed beyond a reasonable doubt. But here, those jurors needed only to feel there was probable cause that Wilson had committed a crime.
In an interview with the St. Louis County Police Department a day after the shooting, Wilson said that Brown had begun the encounter by leaning into the squad car’s driver’s-side door while Wilson was still inside — a way to prevent the officer from getting out. The dispute turned physical, and Wilson, who could not reach his mace and did not feel it would be effective anyway, drew his firearm, he later told the grand jury. Brown managed to grab it, Wilson said.
“I was guaranteed he was going to shoot me,” the officer said in the interview that was released along with other grand jury evidence. “He had completely overpowered me while I was sitting in the car.”
Kimberly Kindy and David Montgomery in Ferguson, and Brian Murphy and Dana Hedgpeth in Washington contributed to this report.