FERGUSON, Mo. (Reuters) - Missouri’s governor ordered hundreds more National Guard troops on Tuesday to the St. Louis suburb rocked by rioting after a white policeman was cleared in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, while the local mayor said the governor did not do enough to protect businesses from looting.
Attorneys for the family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot to death in Ferguson by officer Darren Wilson in August, condemned as biased the grand jury process that led to Monday’s decision not to bring criminal charges against Wilson.
The killing in Ferguson, a predominantly black city with a white-dominated power structure, underscores the sometimes tense nature of U.S. race relations.
Violent protests and looting flared after the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision, with Governor Jay Nixon calling the resulting damage “heartbreaking.”
About a dozen Ferguson buildings burned overnight and 61 people were arrested on charges including burglary, illegal weapons possession and unlawful assembly, police said. Police said protesters fired guns at them, lit patrol cars on fire and hurled bricks into their lines. Police fired tear gas and flash-bang canisters at protesters.
“Lives and property must be protected. This community deserves to have peace,” Nixon told a news conference, saying about 700 guard troops were deployed on Monday and hundreds more will be out on Tuesday night to protect homes and businesses. He said there are more than 2,200 guardsmen now in the region.
“We must do better and we will,” Nixon said.
Criticizing the governor’s response to the unrest, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said the National Guard “was not deployed in enough time to save all of our businesses.”
“The decision to delay the deployment of the National Guard is deeply concerning,” Knowles told a news conference. “We are asking that the governor make available and deploy all necessary resources to prevent the further destruction of property and the preservation of life in the city of Ferguson.”
The unrest came despite calls by President Barack Obama and others for police and protesters to exercise restraint. Police had been preparing for months but admitted they were overtaken by the violent events that unfolded.
The grand jury decision also shifted the legal spotlight to the ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights by intentionally using excessive force and whether Ferguson police systematically violate people’s rights by using excessive force or discrimination.
Obama was briefed about the situation in Ferguson by Attorney General Eric Holder, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
A day after the grand jury’s decision, protests were held in major U.S. cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington.
Brown family lawyer Benjamin Crump said the grand jury proceedings were unfair because the prosecutor in the case had a conflict of interest and Wilson was not properly cross-examined.
“The process should be indicted,” Crump told a news conference, adding that the family wants police to be equipped with body video cameras to provide an indisputable account of their actions.
“This is going to happen again,” said Ferguson area resident James Hall, 56, as he walked past a building smoldering from a blaze set during the street protests.
“If they had charged him with something, this would not have happened to Ferguson,” he said.
Although no serious injuries were reported, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the rioting on Monday night and early Tuesday morning was “much worse” than the disturbances that erupted in the immediate aftermath of the August shooting.
In the city of St. Louis, where windows were broken and traffic was briefly stopped on a major highway overnight, Police Chief Sam Dotson vowed a stronger response on Tuesday night.
Schools in Ferguson and its surrounding cities were closed on Tuesday and city offices in Ferguson were also shut.
About 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis blocking an interstate ramp and chanting, “This what democracy looks like.” They were confronted by a line of riot police and there was no major violence.
Wilson, who could have faced charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder, offered thanks to his supporters, saying “your dedication is amazing,” in a letter attributed to him posted on a Facebook page for those who have rallied to his side.
Attorneys for Wilson, who was placed on administrative leave since the shooting, said he was following his training and the law when he shot Brown.
Wilson told the grand jury that Brown had tried to grab his gun and he felt his life was in danger when he fired, according to documents released by prosecutors.
“I said, ‘Get back or I’m going to shoot you,’” Wilson said, according to the documents. “He immediately grabs my gun and says, ‘You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.’”
Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Carey Gillam in Kansas City, David Bailey in Minneapolis, Fiona Ortiz and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Laila Kearney and Letitia Stein in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Scott Malone; Editing by Will Dunham