A grand jury decided not to indict a Ferguson police officer in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests.
St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch announced the decision Monday evening that the grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting, prompting an angry response from demonstrators.
Wilson’s fatal shooting of Brown after an August 9 confrontation reignited a debate over how police treat young African-American men and focused attention on long-simmering racial tensions in Ferguson and around the US Rioting occurred the following night, protests erupted for weeks and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.
McCulloch stressed that the grand jurors were “the only people who heard every witness … and every piece of evidence.” He said many witness presented conflicting statements that ultimately were inconsistent with the physical evidence.
“These grand jurors poured their hearts and soul into this process,” he said.
As McCulloch was reading his statement, a crowd gathered around a car from which it was being broadcast on a stereo. When the decision was announced, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who was sitting atop the car, burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked away by supporters.
The crowd erupted in anger, converging on the barricade where police in riot gear were standing. They pushed down the barricade and began pelting police with items, including a bullhorn. Police stood their ground.
Brown’s family released a statement saying they were “profoundly disappointed” in the decision but asked that the public “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
The US Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.
A grand jury of nine white and three black members had met weekly since August 20 to consider evidence, hearing from 60 witnesses. At least nine votes would have been required to indict Wilson. The panel met in secret, a standard practice for such proceedings.
Brown’s shooting inflamed tensions in the predominantly black St Louis suburb that is patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force.
It realled other racially charged cases, from the riots that rocked Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of white police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. More recently, peaceful protests followed the 2013 not-guilty verdict in the Florida slaying in unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who was not a police officer but coordinated the local neighborhood watch.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon traveled to St Louis from the state Capitol and held a news conference ahead of the announcement, asking for “peace, respect and restraint.”
Authorities quickly stepped up security around the courthouse where the decision was announced. Barricades were erected, and more than 20 Missouri state troopers were seen silently assembling with rifles, 3-foot (0.91-meter) batons, riot shields and other equipment. Some nearby businesses boarded up their windows, just as many shops have already done near the site of Brown’s death in Ferguson.
Hours before the announcement, dozens of people gathered in the parking lot across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. Many stood right at the edge of the lot, almost in the street, chanting things “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”
One woman leading the group screamed through a bullhorn “indict that cop. Police don’t like it. We want an indictment.”