Protesters returned to the riot-scarred streets of Ferguson on Tuesday, a day after crowds looted businesses and set fire to buildings in a night of rage against a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who killed black teenager Michael Brown.
In the aftermath of Monday’s violence, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon increased the initial National Guard force of 700 that he sent to the St. Louis suburb to 2,200 to help local authorities keep order. Hours after nightfall, tensions escalated as a police car was set on fire outside City Hall, and authorities released tear gas.
“Lives and property must be protected,” Nixon said, appearing frustrated at a news conference in St. Louis earlier Tuesday. “This community deserves to have peace.”
About 50 protesters converged Tuesday night on a barricade guarded by 30 Guard members. The group chanted “Whose streets, our streets,” “This is what democracy looks like” and “Hands up don’t shoot,” a slogan that has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings.
Outside police headquarters in Ferguson, one woman was taken into custody after protesters threw what appeared to be smoke bombs, flares and frozen water bottles at a line of officers. Two other protesters wearing masks were arrested after defying police instructions to get out of the street.
But the president, even as he acknowledged that many people felt anger and frustration that Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted, condemned the rioting and looting that followed.
“To those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence, I do not have any sympathy for that,” Obama said. For those working to make change, he added, “I want to work with you and I want to move forward with you.”
Wilson, who has not appeared in public since the shooting, said Tuesday in his first interview that he had a “clean conscience” about what happened because “I know that I did my job right.”
The violence in Ferguson on Monday came despite more than three months of preparations by some activists and law enforcement authorities who had hoped that demonstrations could be kept peaceful even if the grand jury chose not to indict Wilson. But nearly all of those plans fell short, one by one. On all sides, there were complaints and blame.
“They didn’t act on what they put into place — they being the protesters, they being police, they being people that were on the front line,” said Carlton Lee, the president in Ferguson of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Some said that police, who had responded with too much military-style force in August, seemed on Monday night to be very restrained, even as stores were looted and fires were set. And protest leaders, who had pledged that they would carry out militant but nonviolent shows of anger, appeared unable to rein in those with more violent ideas.
Mixed signals came from Brown’s family on Monday. Early in the evening, they issued a statement calling for a peaceful reaction to the grand jury’s decision. But later that night, as the decision was announced, Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, grew emotional outside the Ferguson police station, yelling, “Burn this [expletive] down!”
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Brown family, said in a news conference that he condemned “violence and looting from last night, but we also condemn violent acts that killed Michael Brown.” Asked whether the family will pursue a lawsuit, Crump has said he was considering all options.
Residents and business owners along the streets in Ferguson expressed frustration and fear at what occurred Monday night. For weeks, the authorities here had worked to assure them that the region would be ready for whatever was ahead.
“They abandoned us completely,” said Rob Chabot, the owner of Mobile Eye Care Solutions, along South Florissant Road, where episodes of violence flared on Monday. “They sacrificed Ferguson. For what cause? I don’t know.”
Belmar said the initial hands-off tactics by the police were intended to allow protesters to demonstrate peacefully, but he said that the situation ultimately grew so unstable that it required a more forceful approach.
“I don’t think we were underprepared, but I’ll be honest with you: Unless we bring 10,000 policemen in here, I don’t think we can prevent folks that really are intent on destroying a community,” he said.
Most of the 60-plus people arrested were Missouri residents — a shift, some here said, from the unrest of the summer.