Updated at 10:06 a.m.
More protests are planned today over the decision Monday by a grand jury not to charge Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
But, as NPR’s Carrie Johnson is reporting, Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal investigation into Wilson’s actions is ongoing and independent of St. Louis prosecutors.
The unrest began overnight soon after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks decided that “no probable cause exists” to file charges against Wilson, who is white, in the death of Brown, who was black. He said he did not know how the jurors voted, as their votes are kept secret. But, he said, a decision on criminal charges requires agreement from at least nine of the 12 jurors.
Shortly after that announcement, demonstrators clashed with police and set buildings on fire; there were reports of heavy gunfire.
“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August, and that’s truly unfortunate,” St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar said, referring to the rioting that erupted after Brown was killed Aug. 9. Belmar said he had personally heard 150 gunshots.
The Federal Aviation Administration declared a no-fly zone over areas of heavy protests.
More than 80 people were arrested in the St. Louis area.
Reporter Tim Lloyd of St. Louis Public Radio said on Morning Edition that the mood at first was tense but peaceful. But soon after the decision, some in the crowd of protesters began throwing rocks at police and windows. Efforts by some demonstrators to urge calm failed. Police ordered the crowds to disperse and, when that didn’t work, fired tear gas canisters over the heads of the protesters, Lloyd said.
NPR’s Elise Hu, who is reporting on the story in Ferguson, wrote earlier that multiple businesses were set ablaze. She writes:
“It’s difficult to get a sense of the wider situation in St. Louis from any one position on the ground, as so much is happening at once. As some businesses burned, looters broke storefronts in scattered places across the area, and a St. Louis-area police officer was shot, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It’s unclear whether the shooting was related to the Ferguson unrest.”
Firefighters were dousing the remains of some of those businesses that were set ablaze.
President Obama, in remarks late Monday, urged calm and said “we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” He said the U.S. has made progress in race relations “but what is also true is that there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”
As NPR’s Johnson is reporting, civil rights lawyers at the Justice Department are working alongside FBI agents to examine whether Wilson intentionally violated Brown’s civil rights. Proving that Wilson violated federal criminal law will be difficult, Johnson reports.
But in the aftermath of Monday’s grand jury announcement, Holder said the federal investigation was ongoing.
“Although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions,” Holder said.
Protests against the decision were also held in Oakland, Calif.; New York; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago. Those protests were peaceful.
Brown’s family called for calm, but said they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
We’re also looking at the documents that McCulloch released last night, which include testimony from Wilson and from witnesses to the encounter that led to Brown’s death, and physical evidence from the confrontation. You can find those here.
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