FERGUSON, MO. — A day of tears gave way to a night of wary calm in this ravaged St. Louis suburb, as demonstrations dialed down and police dialed up, disbursing heavily reinforced units throughout Ferguson to prevent a repeat of Monday’s mayhem.
Busloads of Missouri National Guard troops in full riot regalia fanned out across the steps of Ferguson Police headquarters just before sunset, the front tip of what officials said was a deployment of more than 2,000.
As police helicopters hovered overhead, the ramped up police presence came replete with a new sight on Ferguson’s streets — National Guard Humvees, some in convoy, others stationed at major retail stores that survived Monday’s frenzy.
Across town, near the site of the deadly August encounter between a white policeman and an unarmed black teen that a grand jury now has deemed legal, burned out and badly looted West Florissant Ave. was in veritable lockdown, with police roadblocks preventing all but residential traffic.
The night was not without arrests, with at least two protesters among a crowd of some 500 taken away for blocking traffic. But gone was the frenzy that characterized the immediate aftermath of Monday’s climactic court outcome.
In its place, the night-after demonstrators kept the peace, aiming to reclaim a cause all but devoured by the flames on the one night the entire world was watching.
If the signs changed — one held a placard that read “Sham Jury” — the broad intent remained, with demands for policing reforms.
As Ferguson’s battle lines rearranged, fury, sorrow and blame-storming gripped the small city of 22,000, with pointed questions flying over who bears ultimate responsibility for the destruction.
Many blamed terrible timing — the inexplicable decision by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch to announce the jury’s de facto exoneration of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after 8 p.m. Monday — needlessly making an already dangerous situation that much worse.
Others questioned the absence of a police and fire response in the hardest hit areas of Ferguson, wondering how it was possible that so many days of preparations could result in zero presence on West Florissant, where hooliganism reigned for hours on end.
Heavily criticized for an overtly militarized response to earlier clashes in Ferguson, Monday’s security response seemed to veer to the other extreme, ceding the city’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods to banditry.
Others still found a conspicuous scapegoat in Louis Head, the stepfather of slain teen Michael Brown, who broke with the family’s message of peace in the emotion-charged minutes following the grand jury ruling, repeatedly urging a large crowd of supporters to “burn this bitch down.”
President Barack Obama, speaking from Chicago, took aim at those who interpreted Ferguson as an “excuse for violence.
“I have no sympathy for that. I have no sympathy at all for destroying your own communities.”
Without referencing the specifics of the Brown case, Obama signalled the White House and U.S. Justice Department were readying “trust-building” efforts aimed at closing gaps apparent in communities like Ferguson, acknowledging the sense of exclusion is “not just made up, it’s rooted in realities that have existed for a long time.
“To those who are prepared to work constructively, I want you to know your president will work with you,” he said.
Nowhere, however, were the perceptual gaps more apparent than in the bitterly divided views of the grand jury outcome itself.
Wilson’s published testimony and excerpts of an interview Tuesday with ABC News both cast the six-year Ferguson Police veteran as remarkably at ease with taking Brown’s life, even if the way he described it struck many as stretching the bounds of credulity.
Wilson answered a flat “no” when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos whether there was anything he could have done to prevent the killing. He also shrugged off the suggestion the shooting would haunt him, calling it “just something that happened.”