Shortly after 8 pm local time last night, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced that there would be no indictment of Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown. He did so in what might go down as one of the more bizarre press conferences in history, taking time to blame social media and cable news for the unrest in Ferguson before announcing the decision at the end of a painstaking fifteen-minute statement.
The announcement touched off demonstrations throughout Saint Louis, including some that led to violence. Saint Louis County police reported twenty-nine arrests, and tear gas was deployed in multiple locations. At least a dozen structural fires were also reported, and I watched two police cars burn just down the road from the Ferguson Police Station.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of protestors I encountered were peaceful. While there is clearly a subset of the protesters that have no faith in the system and embody a "burn it down" mentality, most protesters I talked to saw a fight for reform, not violence, as the best manifestation of the anger they are feeling.
In south-central St. Louis City, across town from Ferguson, a large group of protesters formed shortly after the decision was announced, marching through town and shutting down local roads and highways. When a group of protesters began breaking windows, others intervened in an attempt to stop the violence, and eventually split off to start a separate, peaceful march.
Protesters committed to nonviolence emphasized that they share the anger of those protesting in other ways, but condemn acts of violence. I spoke with Jenniqual Johnson, a U.S. army veteran who has been stationed in El Paso, Atlanta, Seattle, and elsewhere. She worked to redirect folks' anger toward peaceful protests following initial acts of vandalism in south-central Saint Louis city. Jenniqual emphasized that Saint Louis has a uniquely severe racial divide, one that is not comparable with other parts of the county she has lived in. Healing that divide, she says, is critical, "It's time to bridge the trust between our community and our elected leaders and the police."