Shortly after Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that a St. Louis grand jury would not be charging Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown, chaos erupted.
Reports of gunfire in and around Ferguson permeated the news as several police cars and buildings along West Florissant Avenue, the main street where protesters gathered in August, were destroyed.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, at least 61 people were arrested in the aftermath, with charges ranging from trespassing to burglary, and some 10 businesses were destroyed or damaged in fires.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar spoke with reporters around 1:30 a.m. CST at a press conference and noted that “he was grateful nobody was killed but disappointed at the amount of damage in the Ferguson area,” according to the Post-Dispatch.
“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August, and that’s truly unfortunate,” Belmar said.
Early reports claimed that officers were not shooting tear gas but merely smoke canisters, but Belmar did note that officers used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Belmar said he did not believe that any officer fired a weapon throughout the night but said that he had personally heard some 150 gunshots. According to the Post-Dispatch, Belmar said that one handgun was seized in the arrests.
Belmar also that he didn’t believe that making the announcement in the evening was a factor in protesters’ reaction and the subsequent violence. “I don’t think we were underprepared,” he said. “We not only were engaged, we did everything we could to prevent this.”
Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who became the face of the police force as one of the few black officers in a position of authority, added that he was disappointed at the protesters’ reaction to the news. “We talked about peaceful protest, and that did not happen tonight,” Johnson told reporters gathered at the news conference, the Post-Dispatch reports.
“We definitely have done something here that’s going to impact our community for a long time … that’s not how we create change. Change is created through our voice, not the destruction of our community.”
Read more at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.