Activists and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country gathered in the streets Monday night to protest the killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.
In the months since Brown was killed, activists used social media to organize protesters, held trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience techniques, and made preparations to ensure the safety of protesters less than 90 days after local police deployed a military-style crackdown on local residents.
A grand jury declined to indict Wilson for the killing of Brown, igniting protests in Ferguson and across the country.
Social justice activists in Ferguson had organized protests in response to the announcement both in Ferguson and throughout the country. The Ferguson National Response Network aggregated dozens of organized actions.
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At least 61 people were arrested in the Ferguson area overnight, according to reporting by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Law enforcement there once again responded to protesters with tear gas and militarized tactics.
Tensions in Ferguson had grown more and more intense in the week leading up to the grand jury’s decision.
Larry Fellows III, an organizer from St. Louis, told Rewire in an interview that the mood before the announcement was “tense and very eerie” and that not one person on the ground was expecting an indictment.
The reactions and tactics of local law enforcement were a major concern for Fellows, as activists planned for protests Monday evening in response to the announcement. Fellows said he was worried about police violence more than violence from protesters.
Ferguson’s law enforcement tactics had grown more aggressive in the days leading up to grand jury’s verdict, according to reports, with police showing up to small local protests heavily armed and dressed in riot gear.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called in the National Guard and declared a preemptive state of emergency, and directed the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police Department, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to “operate as a Unified Command.”
Many thousands gathered in the streets of Ferguson Monday night heard the verdict broadcast over car radios. Fellows said that the people gathered were upset but largely peaceful.
Within the first few hours after the verdict was announced, social media was flooded with reports of aggressive police tactics and tear gas being used on protesters as well as reports of cars set on fire and businesses vandalized.
The Brown family lawyer told MSNBC that relatives were “praying for an indictment” and were “trying to put their faith in the justice system.” At least for the time being, the family’s prayers have not been answered, though federal charges could still be filed against Wilson.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch gave an extensive statement Monday night describing the entire investigation and grand jury process, before revealing that the grand jury had not returned an indictment.
McCulloch laid blame for the unrest in Ferguson on the media, claiming that “the 24-hour news cycle” contributed to misinformation. McCulloch never mentioned the leaks from sources within Ferguson law enforcement that have fueled rampant media speculation.
On August 20, the jury began hearing evidence related to Wilson shooting and killing Brown 11 days earlier. The jury was tasked to determine “whether a crime was committed and whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed it.”
The jury consisted of three Black members and nine white members. An indictment requires nine of those 12 votes.
Evidence was presented to the jury by two assistant prosecutors from McCulloch’s office. McCulloch has a long controversial history in the community, and faced accusations of bias and siding with local law enforcement in cases of police brutality and violence.
McCulloch took questions from the media following his prepared statement. The prosecutor refused to engage questions about the racial disparities in police violence or the problematic nature of a justice system that allows police officers to often shoot and kill civilians with impunity.
After the verdict was announced, the Brown family released a statement that said they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
Shortly after McCulloch’s press conference, President Obama gave a televised statement addressing the verdict, during which he extended his sympathy to the Brown family but warned against civil unrest. “First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law,” Obama said. “And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”