Ferguson streets fall quiet after two nights of protest

Activists stage mock trial of policeman who was cleared of killing Michael Brown (18)

Protestors chanted as members of the Missouri National Guard defended police headquarters in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday night. Hundreds of protesters returned to the streets  to demonstrate over  a controversial verdict in the case of Michael Brown (18) being shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA.

Protestors chanted as members of the Missouri National Guard defended police headquarters in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday night. Hundreds of protesters returned to the streets to demonstrate over a controversial verdict in the case of Michael Brown (18) being shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA.

 

The streets of Ferguson, Missouri, were mostly quiet on Wednesday after two previous nights of racially charged unrest following a US grand jury decision to clear a white policeman over the killing of an unarmed black teenager.

A couple of dozen protesters huddled in the falling snow outside police headquarters in the St Louis suburb, in sharp contrast to the hundreds who took the streets on Monday in a night of arson, looting, sporadic gunfire and clashes with police that ended in more than 60 arrests.

Another 45 protesters were taken into custody in smaller, more isolated bursts of lawlessness erupted after dark on Tuesday.

The decision of the St Louis County grand jury to clear officer Darren Wilson of criminal charges in the August 9th killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown has sparked a wave of demonstrations across the US, culminating in more than 400 arrests.

The case has exposed long-running strains in Ferguson between its predominantly black residents and a white-dominated political and law enforcement establishment while renewing a debate about race relations in the United States as a whole.

Still, with freezing weather hitting much of the nation on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, demonstrations around the country dwindled on Wednesday in size and intensity.

Nowhere were waning passions in the street more pronounced than in and around Ferguson itself, where some 2,200 National Guard troops called out by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon were backing up local police.

“The ramped-up presence and action of the Missouri National Guard has been helpful,” Mr Nixon said on Wednesday after facing criticism for not deploying enough troops in the immediate hours after the grand jury’s decision was announced Monday evening.

About a half-dozen members of the clergy, wearing orange vests, also milled about on Wednesday night among the protesters, most of whom stood quietly in the snow, as passing motorists occasionally honked their horns in support.

In Washington, president Barack Obama has tried to keep a lid on the anger. He remained cautious in his comments in the immediate aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, but has been more expansive in recent days including remarks at the White House after the grand jury’s decision.

On Monday he said deep distrust exists between police and minorities and that “communities of colour aren’t just making these problems up.”

St Louis police said three people were arrested at a protest near City Hall on Wednesday in which activists staged a mock trial of Officer Wilson, who in grand jury testimony and in a subsequent ABC News interview said that he shot Mr Brown because he feared for his life.

A northern suburb of St Louis, Ferguson’s 21,000 population is mixed, with 63 per cent of the residents African-American and 34 per cent white, according to 2010 US Census data. Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles, is white, as are most of its city council members.

A 2013 state attorney general’s report found more than 85 per cent of motorists pulled over in the city are black, and the arrest rate among blacks is twice the rate among white residents.

The Justice Department has been investigating whether to bring federal civil rights charges against Officer Wilson and the Ferguson police department.

Reuters