UPDATE: Ferguson Sees Second Night of Unrest, Protests Staged Across the US

Violence broke out in the streets of Ferguson Monday evening following news that a grand jury did not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. (AP)

VOA News

By William Gallo

The midwestern U.S. town of Ferguson faced a second night of unrest and solidarity demonstrations were held nationwide to protest a grand jury’s decision to not indict a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

More than 2,000 National Guard soldiers have been deployed in Ferguson, Missouri to guard against fresh racially charged riots, which broke out late Monday after it was announced that charges would not be filed against officer Darren Wilson.

VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem, who is in Ferguson, said there has been no repeat of the widespread looting that was seen on the first night of protests, when over a dozen buildings were set on fire and at least 61 people arrested.

“One reason is that the National Guard is spread out in multiple locations. We saw them outside the police department. They were behind the police lines. They were not in front, but they were in riot gear and in riot formation and in front of them was a united command riot formation. But they are scattered all over and guarding key areas in Ferguson and surrounding counties,” said Tanzeem.

A tense moment occurred late Tuesday, when a group of protesters began smashing the windows of and setting fire to a police vehicle in front of Ferguson City Hall.

Tanzeem said a large number of riot police and National Guard troops approached the area in armored vehicles and ordered the protesters to disperse.

“They started announcing that everyone needs to leave the area right now. At that moment somebody, we don’t even know if it was the police, somebody in the crowd threw pepper spray on a whole bunch of people, including on our own VOA colleague, who got pepper sprayed pretty badly. We had to immediately find medics and evacuate him and move him to safety,” said Tanzeem.

The St. Louis County Police Department said via Twitter that the area was declared an “unlawful assembly” and that those refusing to leave would be arrested. The department also said there were reports of bottles and fireworks being thrown at officers.

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has inflamed tensions and brought to the surface concerns over police violence and racial discrimination in the predominantly black suburb of St. Louis and across the nation.

On Tuesday, demonstrators marched and disrupted traffic in cities including St. Louis, Cleveland, and Seattle. In Washington D.C., demonstrators laid on the ground in a so-called “die-in” protest in front of a police station. Protesters in New York also disrupted traffic on bridges and the Lincoln Tunnel, leading to a number of arrests.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said he deplored the destructive acts, saying they are criminal and those responsible should be prosecuted. But America’s first black president also said he understands that many people are upset by the grand jury decision.

He said the frustrations of the protesters have “deep roots in many communities of color who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly.”

Earlier Tuesday, Brown’s parents appeared at a news conference in a Ferguson church, alongside their lawyers and civil rights leader Al Sharpton. They described the grand jury decision announced Monday as “completely unfair.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said a federal investigation into the shooting continues. The Justice Department has been looking into whether the Ferguson Police Department is engaging in unconstitutional practices.

Officer Wilson made his first public comments about the incident Tuesday. In a television interview with ABC, Wilson said he feared for his life during the confrontation with Brown, saying the teenager was trying to take his gun.

The officer, who has been placed on leave, said he has a clean conscience “because I know I did my job right.”

Several eyewitnesses said Brown was putting his hands in the air to surrender as Wilson opened fire.

But St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Monday that testimony is not supported by evidence and that many of the witnesses contradicted themselves.

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