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Riot-hit Ferguson Sees Second Night of Unrest

  • VOA News

The Midwestern U.S. town of Ferguson faced a second night of unrest and solidarity demonstrations were held nationwide to protest a grand jury's decision to not indict a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

More than 2,000 National Guard soldiers have been deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, to guard against fresh racially charged riots, which broke out late Monday after it was announced that charges would not be filed against officer Darren Wilson.

Police arrested 44 people during a second, calmer night of demonstrations in Ferguson.

“We made 44 arrests this evening," said Jon Belmar, St. Louis County police chief, at the overnight news conference in Ferguson.

"We did make four felony arrests ... one was for unauthorized use of a weapon and the others were assaults against police officers. The majority of [the] arrests were misdemeanors. Most of those were either fail to obey a lawful order or fail to disperse."

Scale of violence

Police officials said they were caught by surprise by the scale of the violence in Ferguson.

“None of us could have imagined last night was going to be what it was,” said Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson, referring to the sometimes violent protests of a day earlier.

VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem, who is in Ferguson, said there has been no repeat of the widespread looting that was seen on the first night of protests, when over a dozen buildings were set on fire and at least 61 people arrested.

"One reason is that the National Guard is spread out in multiple locations," Tanzeem said.

"We saw them outside the police department. They were behind the police lines. They were not in front, but they were in riot gear and in riot formation and in front of them was a united command riot formation. But they are scattered all over and guarding key areas in Ferguson and surrounding counties," she said.

A tense moment occurred late Tuesday, when a group of protesters began smashing the windows of and setting fire to a police vehicle in front of Ferguson City Hall.

Tanzeem said a large number of riot police and National Guard troops approached the area in armored vehicles and ordered the protesters to disperse.

"They started announcing that everyone needs to leave the area right now. At that moment somebody, we don't even know if it was the police, somebody in the crowd threw pepper spray on a whole bunch of people, including on our own VOA colleague, who got pepper sprayed pretty badly. We had to immediately find medics and evacuate him and move him to safety," Tanzeem said.

Police declared the gathering to be illegal and warned that those refusing to leave would be arrested. The area was cleared within half an hour.

Inflamed tensions

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has inflamed tensions and brought to the surface concerns over police violence and racial discrimination in the predominantly black suburb of St. Louis and across the nation.

On Tuesday, demonstrators marched and disrupted traffic in cities including St. Louis, Cleveland and Seattle.

In Washington D.C., demonstrators laid on the ground in a so-called "die-in" protest in front of a police station. Protesters in New York also disrupted traffic on bridges and the Lincoln Tunnel, leading to a number of arrests.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said he deplored the destructive acts, saying they are criminal and those responsible should be prosecuted. But America's first black president also said he understands that many people are upset by the grand jury decision.

Obama said the frustrations of the protesters have "deep roots in many communities of color who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly.''

'Completely unfair'

Earlier Tuesday, Brown's parents appeared at a news conference in a Ferguson church, alongside their lawyers and civil rights leader Al Sharpton. They described the grand jury decision announced Monday as "completely unfair."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said a federal investigation into the shooting continues. The Justice Department has been looking into whether the Ferguson Police Department is engaging in unconstitutional practices.

Officer Wilson made his first public comments about the incident later Tuesday. In a television interview with ABC, Wilson said he feared for his life during the confrontation with Brown, saying the teenager was trying to take his gun.

The officer, who has been placed on leave, said he has a clean conscience "because I know I did my job right."

Several eyewitnesses said Brown was putting his hands in the air to surrender as Wilson opened fire.

But St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Monday that testimony is not supported by evidence and that many of the witnesses contradicted themselves.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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