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Ferguson: Businesses Ablaze, Bullets Fly in Overnight Mayhem Over Grand Jury

A dozen buildings blazed, at least 29 people were arrested, police cars were vandalized and looting was reported.
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Dawn broke Tuesday over burned-out buildings, shattered glass and desolate streets in Ferguson, Missouri, one day after a grand jury chose not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in August.

The decision touched off a spasm of public fury that police said was unlike anything the city saw over the summer, when it was transformed from a little-known suburb of St. Louis into a flashpoint for clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement.

At least 150 gunshots were fired, businesses were ravaged, and police cars were vandalized. Police made 82 arrests, including 61 in Ferguson, many of them for burglary, unlawful assembly and trespassing. At least a dozen buildings were torched, including a hair salon, a meat market and a pizzeria.

On Tuesday, fire trucks — unable to help in many places on the night before because of the danger in the streets — showered water onto the husks of buildings. Shopkeepers swept up shards of glass and picked through what was left of their stores.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Demetria Lightfoot, 33, who lives in Ferguson. “My city has burned down. There’s no community left here.”

West Florissant Avenue, a main stretch of businesses, was closed by police. The owners of many businesses in Ferguson had boarded their windows, fearing violence after the grand jury announcement, and those fears were realized.

Authorities were left with the task of reassuring the city of 21,000 people, and broader St. Louis, that they could restore calm.

“Unless we bring 10,000 policemen in here, I don’t think we can prevent folks who really are intent on destroying a community,” said Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County police.

After considering evidence for three months, the grand jury elected not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who fired 12 shots and killed Brown, 18, after a confrontation on a residential street on Aug. 9.

The breakdown of a tense order came quickly after the announcement was delivered by a St. Louis prosecutor. Demonstrators hurled bottles and batteries at police, who put on riot gear and ordered crowds to disperse.

Buildings burned out of control. For a time, authorities directed airplanes away from the St. Louis airport and cleared the sky over Ferguson. At least 18 people were injured, The Associated Press reported.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the state Highway Patrol, the man credited with restoring peace following the violence three months ago, said that the community “has to take some responsibility for what happened tonight in terms of tearing our community apart.”

Officers in Ferguson used tear gas and sent up smoke to break up unruly demonstrators, but Belmar said that they had fired no shots.

The violence came despite pleas from authorities in Missouri, the Brown family and President Barack Obama, who encouraged calm in a speech from the White House that was televised side-by-side with pictures of police clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson.

The Brown family said in a statement after the decision: “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”

Protests broke out across the country. Hundreds blocked traffic on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in New York. A crowd of 500 shut down an interstate in Oakland, California. Police said people threw fireworks at officers in Seattle.

Grand jury records were released after the decision was announced, including Wilson’s interview with police detectives on the day after the shooting.

He described Brown as taunting and assaulting him, and said that the teenager was so menacing, the officer “felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan.” The officer said he was thinking: “How do I live through this, basically?”

The prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, said that some witnesses gave conflicting statements, and that others turned out not to have seen the shooting at all.

“As tragic as this is, it was a not a crime,” McCulloch said.

Twelve miles away in St. Louis, windows were smashed, and police made 21 arrests, including for unlawful gun possession, property destruction and burglary. Mayor Francis Slay said at daylight that the violence was unacceptable.

He said that it “not only puts a black eye on our community, but it really sets back the cause of social justice. Violence doesn’t solve anything.”

Chief Sam Dotson of the St. Louis police said he was proud of his officers. He said that bands of opportunistic people had roamed the city, but “at every turn they encountered police officers or members of the National Guard.”

But the scene was much worse in Ferguson. At a news conference overnight, Johnson said: “We talk about peaceful protest, and that didn’t happen tonight. Change is created through our voice and not through destruction of our community. Right now, this community is really fractured.”

Rick Brown and Tracy Jarrett contributed to this report.