Ferguson is exploding. Over three months after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed, the city is experiencing one of its most violent nights of demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters took to Ferguson’s already fragile streets late Monday, following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.
Many protesters were already on the street, huddled together to remain warm while awaiting the verdict. The situation quickly and violently escalated after St. Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch made the announcement. Gunshots were heard near the Ferguson Police Department just minutes before a police car was reportedly set on fire. Protesters attacked civilian vehicles, smashed street-level windows and set fire to at least one storefront.
At least 400 National Guard were troops were already dispatched to Ferguson in anticipation of Monday night’s unrest.
Rioting began just minutes after the announcement and were in full swing as President Barack Obama urged calm in a live address to the nation.
“I also appeal to law enforcement officials and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur,” Obama said. “As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish from the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence. Distinguish them from the vast majority of people who want their voices heard.”
Obama also read a statement from Brown’s father, released before the announcement in a YouTube video. Brown’s family urged protesters not to resort to violence and Obama said the nation should “be honoring their wishes.”
“Hurting others and destroying property is not the answer. Whatever the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,” Michael Brown Sr. said in the statement released prior to the announcement. “We are not here to be violent. We are here in memory of our son.”
Brown’s death sparked a nationwide debate on race relations in law enforcement, but it also brought long-ignored issues and resentments to the surface. Protests and gatherings were held in major U.S. cities in Brown’s honor Monday night, including in New York City, Los Angeles and outside the White House.
“Michael Brown’s death was a tragedy,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “This incident has sparked a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve.”
Ferguson is in for a long night Monday and emotion-fueled violence is likely to overshadow the reason for this national debate: that an 18-year-old man is no longer alive.