FERGUSON, United States (AFP) – Protesters set buildings ablaze, shot at police and looted stores in the US town of Ferguson on Monday after a grand jury chose not to press charges against a white officer who shot dead a black teen.
Police were overwhelmed by an explosion of violence right after the hotly awaited verdict. Officers were shot at and pelted with rocks and other objects, and as of 2.30 am Tuesday (0730 GMT) 12 buildings were ablaze, said Chief Jon Belmar of the St Louis County police department.
He said he himself had counted 150 gun shots. But police did not return fire and no-one on other side was killed. Twenty-nine demonstrators were arrested.
One officer was shot in the arm in a separate St Louis suburb but this was not related to the grand jury verdict, Belmar said.
As the unrest continued into the night, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called in additional National Guard forces to help restore order.
President Barack Obama and the family of Michael Brown appealed in vain for calm after a prosecutor said a grand jury had found the policeman acted in self-defence in shooting the 18-year-old.
The death of Brown back in August sparked weeks of sometimes violent protests and a nationwide debate about forceful police tactics and race relations in America.
St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Officer Darren Wilson had fired 12 times after getting into an “altercation” with Brown, and that the jury had found no grounds to file charges.
As McCulloch rounded off his summary of the grand jury’s decision, Brown’s mother burst into tears and the crowd began to chant: “Hey, hey, ho, ho! These killer cops have got to go.”
Members of an angry crowd outside the police station where Wilson had been threw bottles and stones. A police car was set alight and nearby stores looted. Two police cars burned so badly they essentially melted, Belmar said.
Riot officers responded with teargas, batons and flash grenades, and running battles broke out in the streets of the St Louis suburb, with armored cars moving slowly through the area.
Looters smashed their way into a mobile phone store opposite the police headquarters and ransacked it. An AFP journalist was hurt when he was hit in the face with a brick.
Pat Bailey, a retiree from St Louis in her 60s, said she had expected the decision. “I’ve lived long enough to know that African Americans are not considered human beings,” she said.
Protest marches began in several more US cities – including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and the capital Washington DC – but there were no immediate reports of unrest outside Missouri.
Outside the White House in Washington, a crowd waved signs urging the government to “Stop racist police terror.”
Inside the executive mansion, Obama made a rapidly-organised televised appearance to appeal for calm in the Midwestern town, echoing the sentiments of the dead teenager’s family.
“Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes,” Obama said.
“I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur.”