More troops deployed to Ferguson

The Missouri Governor ordered hundreds of troops to 'take back the streets' as violent protests continue.

Police in riot gear move past a vehicle that continues to burn on the street in Ferguson, Missouri, on 24 November 2014. Picture: EPA

FERGUSON - Missouri's governor ordered hundreds more National Guard troops on Tuesday to a St. Louis suburb rocked by rioting and looting after a grand jury declined to indict a white policeman in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

Attorneys for the family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot to death in Ferguson by officer Darren Wilson in August, condemned as biased the St. Louis County grand jury process that led to Monday's decision not to bring charges.

The killing in Ferguson, a predominantly black city with a white-dominated power structure, underscores the occasionally tense nature of US race relations and sometimes strained ties between African-American communities and the police.

The grand jury's decision sparked racially charged protests that were more intense than unrest that erupted in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, but still much smaller than those that followed the acquittal of police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King in Los Angeles two decades ago.

"Last night the rioters did some things to our community we all couldn't have woke up this morning imagining," Captain Ron Johnson of Missouri Highway Patrol told reporters.

In Ferguson, about a dozen buildings, including a pizza shop and a beauty parlour, burned overnight as protesters took to the streets in anger. Police said protesters fired guns at them, lit patrol cars on fire and hurled bricks into their lines.

Police fired tear gas and flash-bang canisters at demonstrators, and 61 people were arrested. Police were also investigating as suspicious a body found in a car in Ferguson, and couldn't rule out a link between the death and the rioting.

Meanwhile, Ferguson's mayor James Knowles told a news conference the National Guard "was not deployed in enough time to save all of our businesses."

"The decision to delay the deployment of the National Guard is deeply concerning," Knowles said. "We are asking that the governor make available and deploy all necessary resources to prevent the further destruction of property and the preservation of life in the city of Ferguson."

Governor Jay Nixon said about 700 guard troops were deployed on Monday and hundreds more would be out on Tuesday night to protect homes and businesses.

"This community deserves to have peace," Nixon said, adding that more than 2,200 guardsmen are now in the region. "We must do better and we will."

The unrest came despite calls by President Barack Obama and others for police and protesters to exercise restraint. Police had been preparing for months but admitted they were overtaken by the violent events that unfolded.

US Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters he was disappointed by the violent protesters he saw in Ferguson and has asked for a review to identify and isolate "criminal elements" from peaceful protesters.

BROKEN PROCESS

The grand jury decision shifted the legal spotlight to an ongoing US Justice Department investigation into whether Wilson violated Brown's civil rights by intentionally using excessive force and whether Ferguson police systematically violate rights by using excessive force or discrimination.

Holder said he had been briefed by Justice Department officials overseeing federal probes surrounding Brown's death, but did not say when investigators might complete their work.

Obama asked Americans on Tuesday to be "constructive" by engaging in debate about racial tensions and law enforcement, and said demonstrators who engage in criminal acts should be prosecuted.

Brown family lawyer Benjamin Crump said the grand jury proceedings were unfair because the prosecutor in the case had a conflict of interest and Wilson was not properly cross-examined.

"The process should be indicted," Crump said, adding that the family wants police to be equipped with body video cameras to provide an indisputable account of their actions.

Schools in Ferguson and its surrounding cities were closed on Tuesday and city offices in Ferguson were also shut.

"This is going to happen again," said Ferguson area resident James Hall, 56, as he walked past a smouldering building. "If they had charged him with something, this would not have happened to Ferguson."

In the city of St. Louis, where windows were broken and traffic was briefly stopped on a major highway overnight, Police Chief Sam Dotson vowed a stronger response on Tuesday night.

About 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside a federal courthouse in St. Louis blocking a road and chanting, "This is what democracy looks like."

Protests were also held on Tuesday in other major US cities, from New York to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington.

Wilson, who could have faced charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder, thanked supporters in a letter attributed to him on a Facebook page for those who have rallied to his side, saying "your dedication is amazing."

Later, Wilson told ABC News in an interview that was aired in part on Tuesday that there was nothing he could have done differently in his confrontation with Brown that would have prevented the teenager's death.

"The reason I have a clean conscience is because I know I did my job right," he told ABC News, adding that he would have acted no differently had Brown been white.

Documents released by prosecutors said that Wilson, who was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, told the grand jury Brown had tried to grab his gun, and that the officer felt his life was in danger when he fired.

"I said, 'Get back or I'm going to shoot you,'" Wilson said, according to the documents. "He immediately grabs my gun and says, 'You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.'"