“Burn This Shit Down”: Mayhem and Protests Engulf Ferguson

In Ferguson, most protesters were peaceful, but others were looting, crashing cars, setting fires, and fighting.

Police in riot gear use tear gas to clear the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department after the announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

FERGUSON, Mo. — Tonight, utter chaos unfolded in Ferguson, Mo., after St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that charges would not be filed against officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

Standing outside the Ferguson Police Department headquarters, the mood of the crowd of a few thousand was initially jubilant and brimming with anticipation, but around 8 p.m., when the announcement of the grand jury decision was made, all hell broke loose. Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, addressed the crowd as McCulloch was speaking, apparently already informed of what the decision was going to be. She broke down sobbing in tears and agony saying, “They took my baby,” and “We’re sick of this.” After that, the stepfather of Michael Brown, Louis Head, shouted through tears, “Burn this shit down.” At that, some of the crowd got agitated and very aggressive with police.

Simultaneous with the announcement of the decision, St. Louis County officials released transcripts of grand jury testimony. Wilson, who is 6 foot 4 and 210 pounds, described Brown in his testimony as “Hulk Hogan,” and stated that he looked “angry as a demon.” According to Wilson, Brown reached for his gun while he was seated in his police cruiser and said, “You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.”

In front of the Ferguson Police Department headquarters, after Head’s outburst and after the grand jury decision was announced, the police took out their riot gear and formed a blockade in front of the headquarters building. There were also snipers visible on the roof of the police headquarters.

After the police formed a line, the crowd began chanting various slogans: “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Fuck the police,” “No justice, no peace,” etc. Some members of the crowd then dispersed south on South Florissant Road. The protesters who remained started throwing rocks at the police. Others damaged a police cruiser. Police then told protesters they were assembled unlawfully and to disperse or face arrest.

When the protesters didn’t disperse, police confronted them, shooting multiple tear gas or smoke canisters into the crowd and pushing the crowd north on South Florissant. The protesters reacted by shrieking, running, and washing their eyes out with milk and water. Some of the protesters were randomly shooting guns into the air, feeding into the chaotic environment. As the crowd moved north, a few protestors looted a small number of stores on South Florissant, including a Second Time Around resale store. But they were the minority by far. Most of the protesters were peacefully assembled, chanting slogans, but there was a minority who decided to loot, to set fires, and to torch two police cars. The protesters were angry, they were hurt, they were disappointed, and some of them used violence as a way to vent their frustration. One of the other protesters, a woman, said to the looters, “Don’t do this, this isn’t who we are.”

The crowd was pushed further north. At South Florissant and Airport Road, protesters set a Walgreens on fire. Protesters also looted a T-Mobile store and an Aaron’s furniture outlet. Over on West Florissant Avenue, a different crowd had set multiple fires only a block or two from where Mike Brown was killed. Looters also hit up the McDonald’s that became infamous as a location where reporters camped during the first round of riots immediately after Brown’s killing.

The scene was chaos. In addition to the looting, cars were running into each other, people fighting on the street, and were guns being shot off. As I was leaving, I saw more fires being set.

Meanwhile, angry citizens in cars drove up and down South Florissant, honking, trying to rile up others, and saying, “Don’t go to sleep, this is the night,” or, “This is only the beginning, we’ll be back tomorrow.”

St. Louis County Police reported 61 arrests, nearly a dozen buildings set afire, and two police cars torched. In an early morning news conference, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said there was basically nothing left on West Florissant. Many area school districts also cancelled classes. And officials have reinforced a no-fly zone over Ferguson. Protests continued throughout the city in Clayton, downtown and Ferguson.

Updated at 10:52 a.m. Tuesday, November 25, 2014.

Editor’s Note: February 2, 2016
After uncovering misattributed quotes in stories written by Juan Thompson, a former staff reporter, The Intercept conducted a review of his work. Quotes in this story attributed to anonymous protesters could not be confirmed.

Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP

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