FERGUSON, Mo. — Hours after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon decided to triple the National Guard presence in a still smoldering St. Louis suburb, protesters again stood off with police late Tuesday on the streets of Ferguson, though there was no sign of the mass-scale arson and rioting that had caused so much destruction and soul-searching a night earlier.
But as the rage lowered from a boil to a simmer in Ferguson, it also spread out across the country. Large, mostly young crowds marched in at least a dozen major U.S. cities, snarling traffic in Los Angeles and shutting down streets in Boston. In Manhattan, protesters moved through Times Square with their hands up — a silent rally cry for Michael Brown, the teenager who was shot 3
The decision by a grand jury not to indict Wilson sparked several dozen fires and more than 60 arrests in St. Louis on Monday — a night of “lawlessness” that Nixon (D) said could not be repeated.
But by 1:30 a.m. in Ferguson on Tuesday, police had made 44 arrests, including three assaults against police officers. Even so, the streets weren’t nearly as volatile as the night before, police officials said.
“I think generally it was a much better night,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
By midnight officers had dealt only with a few small flashpoints. A protester threw a flaming projectile that landed near a row of advancing officers. Later, a small group tried to overturn an unoccupied patrol car in front of city hall, eventually lighting it on fire.
Still, officers largely managed to contain the gathering. When trouble arose, police moved in more quickly than they had on Monday. The crowd numbered in the low hundreds, compared with more than 1,000 on Monday.
President Obama had criticized the violence of a night earlier, saying that “nothing of benefit, nothing of significance, results from destructive acts.” Speaking in Chicago, Obama said he had asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to convene a “series of regional meetings focused on building trust in our communities” and on making law enforcement fairer.
In Ferguson, anger about Brown’s death stems from what many here describe as a deeply ingrained distrust between majority African American communities and largely white authorities.
Monday night’s damage was severe enough that several downtown Ferguson blocks were designated as a crime scene. While the Ferguson mayor and Missouri’s lieutenant governor bristled that state officials hadn’t done enough to stop the rioting, others said the destruction to businesses was a case of anger spiraling out of control.
“I feel like I could collapse on the floor,” said Kim Yeon-sook, an employee at the half-burned and looted Beauty World, where the cash register was missing and ceiling fans had wilted in the flames.
“Oh, God,” a friend said, hugging Kim. “This is just too depressing.”
Since mid-August, this middle-class, predominantly black suburb has grown accustomed to tense standoffs between police and protesters. But what happened Monday far exceeded — in cost and damage — all that had come before, and it left Ferguson bracing for more waves of unrest. At least a half-dozen businesses were torched Monday. Sixty-one arrests were made, 32 for felony charges.
“This is a man-made disaster and an economic one,” said Rebecca Zoll, president and chief executive of North County Inc., a community-development organization that deals with a broad area that includes Ferguson. “I’m heartsick.”
At a news conference early Tuesday afternoon, Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles, criticized state officials for not doing enough to protect property. Though police had trained for months to better handle mayhem and Nixon a week earlier had declared a state of emergency, the National Guard all but ignored the major commercial areas along South Florissant Road and West Florissant Avenue.
In a phone interview, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said that Nixon and his lieutenants were inaccessible Monday night to authorities on the ground, including Knowles. That led to a situation in which Knowles was begging for National Guard assistance but couldn’t get authorization. Knowles and Kinder spoke in the morning, said Kinder, a Republican and a political opponent of Nixon’s.
“It is dumbfounding and unfathomable that a governor who called out [the National Guard] would hold them back at a time of direst need,” Kinder said, practically screaming. “Mayor Knowles sat on his back porch and watched businesses burn. There are 12 businesses gone today, which wouldn’t be the case if there had been 50 guardsmen standing in front.”
Nixon vowed at a news conference with a half-dozen other law enforcement officials that there “will not be a repeat” of what happened Monday. He said 2,200 National Guard members would be available Tuesday, three times the total of a night earlier.
“Last night was a disaster. It’s very disappointing,” Nixon said. “Criminals intent on lawlessness and destruction terrorized this community. I am deeply saddened for the people of Ferguson who woke up this morning to see parts of their community in ruins.’’
By Tuesday night, crowds were again on the streets in Ferguson, though not on the scale of 24 hours earlier. What began as a sleepy demonstration turned tense just before 8 p.m. local time when a fresh batch of protesters arrived and entered the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Officers emerged from the building and confronted them.
Two were arrested — a man and a woman who were chased and tackled by officers after being told to get out of the street.
“That’s my wife; I’m not leaving until I see she is okay,” the man screamed as the woman was being restrained by a half-dozen officers in the street.
The woman was one of several protesters wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, popularized by the movie “V for Vendetta” and a token taken up by the Internet vigilante group Anonymous.
As authorities planned for how to contain Tuesday’s demonstrations, Knowles said that “nothing has changed” about Wilson’s status with the Ferguson police force. The officer, 28, has been on administrative leave since the shooting, though Ferguson’s police chief has said Wilson is unlikely to return to his job.
Wilson had been largely out of public view during that time, but he broke his silence Tuesday in an exclusive interview with ABC News’s 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 that he was sorry that Brown had died but said he would not do anything differently and has a clean conscience.
Stephanopoulos asked whether Brown’s hands had been raised. “That would be incorrect,” Wilson replied. “No way.”
Meanwhile, attorneys and representatives for Brown’s family complained of the grand jury proceedings, saying evidence presented was flawed and biased. They also called the decision to release the grand jury’s findings at night irresponsible. “It was unnecessarily provocative, but I think it only cleared up why many of us said ‘let’s go to the federal government’ in the first place,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Holder, meeting with reporters Tuesday afternoon, expressed his disappointment in the outbreak of violence and said the Justice Department would seek to determine who was responsible.
“The way in which we make progress in this country is when we have seen peaceful, nonviolent protests,” Holder said.
Holder had declined requests to join St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch at the news conference in which he announced the grand jury’s decision. Justice Department officials have often sought to emphasize that their investigations into Brown’s death and the Ferguson Police Department are independent of the work of local law enforcement agencies.
A Justice Department official said Holder was angry that McCulloch said his name and referred to the Justice Department many times in his news conference.
Tuesday morning in Ferguson, hundreds of volunteers and residents assembled downtown and began cleaning up — and girding for more violence. While some swept broken glass from the streets, others nailed plywood over windows that hadn’t been covered Monday.
At Beauty World, the husband-and-wife owners stood near a broken door and wiped tears. Customers walked cautiously inside, wading through an inch of water, only to return with chagrined accounts of the damage. The $200 hair extensions were gone. So were the wigs. And the purses.
“It wasn’t just outsiders who did this [damage],” said Cynthia Smith, 53, of Ferguson. “Our community did this. And now we have nowhere to shop.”
Ferguson, a town of 21,000, has found itself facing a question that accompanies any push for progress: How hard, and how noisily, do we provoke? Some residents said Tuesday that, given the grand jury decision, they wanted the community to heal and move forward. Others said that social problems, including tense relations between a majority-black community and a majority-white police force, still need to be addressed.
Jerome Jenkins, a longtime Ferguson resident who coaches high school basketball and track and owns a restaurant along with his wife, said he strongly disagrees with the grand jury’s decision. And he objects to anybody saying that “protesters” caused the damage to his businesses. “Protesters protest, criminals riot,” he said. It was protesters, he pointed out, who formed a protective shield in front of Cathy’s Kitchen — his restaurant — after the first rock broke a window.
“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 schoolkids going to get jobs anymore? I don’t think the economy [of Ferguson] will ever come back.”
After nearly 30 years in Ferguson, James, a retired federal worker, said she and her husband are thinking of leaving. “My community is destroyed. I don’t know that we’ll ever come back from this,” she said.
“I supported the protesters for a while,” she said. Her support had less to do with Brown’s death than with a general sense that the local court system has treated young black men unfairly. “But they totally pissed me off. I would never support them now. This has gotten totally out of control.”
Wesley Lowery in Ferguson, Juliet Eilperin in Chicago, and Sari Horwitz and Justin Moyer in Washington contributed to this report.