US & Canada

Ferguson ruling: Hope fades as violence grips town

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Media captionHow a night of riots unfolded in Ferguson, in 90 seconds

Even before rioting erupted and spread across Ferguson into the early hours of Tuesday morning, the town had been bracing itself for violence.

BBC journalists covered the events of the night from around the town. This account has been compiled from their reports.

Reporting from Ferguson by BBC's David Botti, Lynsea Garrison, Bahman Kalbasi, Aleem Maqbool, Franz Strasser and Rajini Vaidyanathan. Reporting from Washington, DC, by Anthony Zurcher.


Awaiting a ruling

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A crowd had assembled outside the Ferguson Police Department in the chilly winter air.

They waited, almost as at a vigil, for the announcement of whether a grand jury would order officer Darren Wilson to stand trial for the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

Few of the protesters expected good news - for them, that meant an indictment - as they gathered around nearby cars, listening to radio reports from the St Louis County courthouse, miles away.

Outside the police department, officers in regular uniforms stood behind crowd-control fences. On the corner of Chambers and W Florissant, a major commercial intersection a few miles away, Missouri National Guard in battle camouflage and armoured vehicles began assuming their positions.

Throughout the town of Ferguson, shops boarded their windows and residents stayed off the streets, preparing for the worst - a replay of August's violent clashes between protestors and law enforcement in the days after the shooting.

Their fears would soon become a reality.


The ruling: 'No probable cause'

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Media captionStrong language as workers at a Ferguson barber shop react to the decision

Roughly a third of the way through his lengthy press statement, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch broke the news that "no probable cause exists to file any charges against officer Wilson".

The police quickly donned riot gear - shields and helmets. Protesters, along with camera-toting members of the media - pressed against the barricades outside the police station, and objects were lobbed toward the police phalanx.

Popping noises - possibly gunfire - echoed across the street, causing many in the crowd to duck. Others began moving south along S Florissant, where they were met by another line of police.

Image copyright Reuters

As President Barack Obama took to the air to urge calm, the situation in Ferguson began to quickly deteriorate. He urged the members of the local community to work with the police to address the town's problems.

"That won't be done by throwing bottles," he said. "That won't be done by smashing car windows. That won't be done by using this as an excuse to vandalise property. And it certainly won't be done by hurting anybody."


Violence begins

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Image caption Two police cars are set ablaze as protests in Ferguson turned violent

While much of the protesting remained peaceful, video from Ferguson revealed a competing reality.

As the president's words hung in the air, windows across the street from the Ferguson police department shattered and shops were looted.

Half a dozen people began trying to flip over an empty police car parked a block away. Fireworks - and possibly other incendiary devices - lit the street and the sky.

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Media captionVideo shows protesters attacking a police car as officers urge them to disperse

The police moved quickly, blanketing S Florissant with tear gas - they originally claimed they had only used smoke canisters. From the south a row of four armoured vehicles began a slow roll toward the police station. Loudspeakers ordered the crowd to disperse.

One man temporarily halted the advance, standing alone in front of the lead vehicle, his arms extended - but his protest only lasted a few minutes.

Image copyright Reuters

The crowd had almost entirely vanished into the surrounding neighbourhoods as the police cleared the street near the station. In a surrealistic moment, riot-gear-clad officers advanced under a glowing "Season's Greetings" banner hung across the street.


Clashes spread

At about the same time, the car that had been nearly capsized earlier was set ablaze. Then another nearby vehicle was also set on fire.

With the area around the Ferguson Police station secure, reports began surfacing of violence in other areas of town. A few blocks to the north, looters streamed into a Walgreens pharmacy. A nearby pizza restaurant was engulfed in flames.

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Image caption President Barack Obama says Ferguson's problems can't be solved by "smashing windows"

Back on West Florissant, another fire broke out at a public storage facility, while a McDonald's was looted. Video showed one man emerging from the restaurant carrying the restaurant's television set. More buildings burned - a liquor market, an auto parts store and #HealSTL, a community outreach centre.

As the hours stretched toward midnight and beyond, reports continued to stream in of automatic gunfire, with additional streets bathed in teargas.

"If [Darren Wilson] is not indicted I believe they will burn the city down," Thomas Bradley, who works at a barber shop on W Florissant, told the BBC early on Monday evening.

His words proved prophetic. The town of Ferguson had once again devolved into a rolling battle between police and looters, as calls for peace went unheeded.


Follow the BBC in Ferguson:

Aleem Maqbool - @aleemmaqbool

Rajini Vaidyanathan - @rajiniv

David Botti - @bottidavid

Lynsea Garrison - @lynsea

Bahman Kalbasi - @bahmankalbasi

Franz Strasser - @franzstrasser