Ferguson, Mo. — Clashes between protesters and police raged for a second night running in this St. Louis suburb, as authorities struggled to contain the passions of a community furious that charges were not filed against a white cop who fatally shot an unarmed teen.
Just as happened Monday night, when two police cars were torched by rioters, a police car was rolled over and set alight outside Ferguson City Hall.
And protesters seemed within moments of vandalizing City Hall itself when rifle-toting police in militarized vehicles repelled the crowd with tear gas and loudspeaker orders to “Disperse or you will be arrested!”
While the angry scenes at 10 p.m. fell short of the chaos that saw a dozen businesses razed by arsonists and looters Monday night, they threatened to overshadow the calls for greater police accountability from slain teen Michael Brown’s family.
Brown’s family had earlier Tuesday vowed to fight on as their hometown arose after a night of looting, arson, and angry protest at the decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with Brown’s death.
“You have broken our hearts — you have not broken our backs,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said to cheers at a news conference organized by the family Tuesday morning.
The signs that protesters had heeded the Brown family’s call for peaceful protest seemed strong as a mostly good-natured crowd of around 200 protesters had several low-level confrontations with police outside Ferguson Police Department early Tuesday evening.
But police lost control when one protester grabbed a bullhorn and led the crowd a quarter of a mile down the street to Ferguson City Hall, where rioters found and ransacked an untended police car.
Amid the heated scenes that followed, a grinning police sergeant asked the crowd to identify the troublemakers, then told them, “looks like there’s some tear gas coming your way.”
Then came a volley of the stinging gas, sending protesters scrambling into side streets.
Parts of the St. Louis suburb that were worst affected by the vandalism Monday remained locked down by police and extra National Guard troops, who were conspicuous by their absence in the burning neighborhoods the day before.
Residents in the town were struggling to comprehend both the destruction, a national TV interview with Wilson, and the revelations in a massive dump of Grand Jury documents released by St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch.
Brown’s family made it clear they held McCulloch responsible for the failure to indict Wilson.
But as Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., stood next to Sharpton earlier Tuesday wearing a T-shirt with the words “No Justice, No Peace” on it, the veteran civil rights campaigner said, “This is not a Ferguson problem… It’s a national problem.”
He vowed that Brown would not be remembered for the sad scenes of destruction in Ferguson Monday night, but for inspiring a national movement of police accountability.
Other speakers called for every police officer in the U.S. to wear a video camera, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to reexamine Brown’s Aug. 9 death, and for the federal government to do what McCulloch did not and indict Wilson.
Michael Brown Sr. did not speak during the event because he was “too emotional” and did not want to say something he regretted, family attorney Benjamin Crump said.
Crump said video footage showing Brown’s stepfather appearing to incite arson after it emerged Monday night that Wilson would not be charged was “totally inappropriate” but was driven by “raw emotion.”
Community members in Greater St. Mark Family Church hollered their agreement when a reporter asked if authorities “let Ferguson burn” by failing to intervene to stop arsonists Monday night.
Sharpton condemned the arsonists, asking “You achieve what? A fire. But you don’t get justice for Mike Brown.”
But he reserved his strongest scorn for McCulloch. In his long career, he said, “I’ve never seen a prosecutor hold a press conference to discredit the victim.”
Sharpton and other speakers said transcripts of the grand jury testimony show that prosecutors never made any effort to indict Wilson, and in fact acted as his defense attorneys.
He said the history of the civil rights movement showed that only the feds, who continue to probe Brown’s death, can be relied upon to protect the rights of African-Americans.
“America saw why we said from day one that the federal government needs to to step in to protect the rights of Mike Brown,” he said.
Responding to criticism from Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who said Tuesday that the National Guard wasn’t deployed quickly enough as violent protests broke out Monday night, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had ordered more than 2,200 National Guardsmen be in place near Ferguson Tuesday evening — triple the number in place on Monday.
Knowles on Tuesday thanked the police officers, firefighters and highway patrol troopers who worked to save businesses in a more than a dozen buildings that were set on fire and otherwise vandalized during the unrest. But Knowles said “the National Guard was not deployed in enough time to save all of our businesses” and called the delay “deeply concerning.”
Protester Rashaunda Seals, 32, of Dellwood, Mo. — which neighbors Ferguson — was one of many who saw positives in the ugly scenes Tuesday.
“People all around the world are watching,” she said, as protesters around her coughed and spluttered from the police tear gas. “People in the rest of the world know America is a white supremacy — but people in America don’t.”
“I believe we need a war in America.”