By Chris Hoenig
Monday night’s protests were unlike any Ferguson had seen in the weeks following Michael Brown’s death, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.
“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we had in August,” he said.
Protesters took to the streets in the hours before St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson was not being charged after killing unarmed Black teen Michael Brown, gathering outside the Ferguson police headquarters.
Journalists, legal experts, civil-rights leaders and activists, even every-day citizens, questioned the logic of releasing the grand jury’s decision at 8 p.m. Central Time. Schools had asked for hours of advance notice, law enforcement needed time to prepare and having the announcement at an off-hour allowed people time to get home. But for many, the timing was still too questionable.
MSNBC’s Joy Reid said that authorities “deliberately almost left themselves with the people most committed to despair.” Others seemed to believe police wanted the protests to end up exactly as they did.
Making this announcement at night seems designed for maximum negative impact. #Ferguson
— lclemetson (@lclemetson) November 25, 2014
I’m starting to think they purposely read that statement at night time now… it’s crazy in Ferguson right now
— Ace Boogie (@iamjrudy) November 25, 2014
Miami Herald reporter Joseph Goodman raised a conspiracy theory of his own.
“I wonder how much more overtime the cops make in St. Louis for an announcement at night compared to during the day,” he asked.
After the announcement, tensions did reach that boiling point.
St. Louis County police cruisers that had been parked near the city’s police department had their windows smashed, were overturned and set on fire. Television networks jumped from reporter to reporter, many having to cut off mid-report as tear gas overwhelmed them.
There were flash-bang grenades and canisters of tear gas and smoke thrown by police. They were hurled right back by protesters.
Sidewalks became a sea of glass shards as block after block of businesses had their windows broken out. Roughly a dozen buildings were set ablaze, many of them “total losses,” according to Belmar.
“Those are dreams. Those are small-business owners. We’ve torn those dreams away,” Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said. “Our community has to take responsibility for what happened tonight. We definitely have done something here that is gonna impact our community for a long time.”There were also questions about not only the tactics used by police against protesters, but their overall approach to the protests and whether it was meant to maximize the destruction caught on camera.
South Florissant Avenue is the epicenter of the white section of town, home to Ferguson Police Department headquarters and upscale restaurants and shops known as Citywalk. On Monday night, South Florissant was where dozens of police officers lined up and advanced on protesters, using copious amounts of tear gas to disperse the crowds and attempt to protect property (this is where at least two police cruisers were set ablaze).
Meanwhile, West Florissant Avenue—a business district in a largely Black neighborhood, which intersects with the street on which Brown was shot and killed—was virtually devoid of police presence. CNN reporter Stephanie Elam noted the lack of police while reporting early on in the night.
Elam dodged trash and debris thrown by protesters who didn’t want to be recorded as fellow reporter Jake Tapper, stationed near the police lines on South Florissant, pleaded with her to move to a safer location.
CNN’s Sara Sidner wasn’t quite so lucky. She was hit in the head by a rock during a live shot before she was also asked to move to a more secure place.