After Ferguson verdict, ADL calls for ‘serious soul-searching’

After Ferguson verdict, ADL calls for ‘serious soul-searching’

As protests simmer and governor calls up more troops, anti-Semitism watchdog says it accepts grand jury decision not to indict officer, excoriates rioters

James Cartmill holds an American flag while protesting in Oakland, Caliornia, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. (photo credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger)
James Cartmill holds an American flag while protesting in Oakland, Caliornia, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. (photo credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger)

As protests over the grand jury acquittal of a policeman who shot an unarmed man in Ferguson, Missouri, continued to simmer, the Anti-Defamation League called for some “serious soul-searching”, while condemning the rioters for responding with violence.

The statement came as Missouri’s governor ordered 2,200 National Guard Troops to the area to crack down on protests over Monday’s grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, on August 9.

“The events in Ferguson, Missouri should prompt all of us to do some very serious soul-searching,” the ADL said in a statement.

“At the same time, this tragedy should be a wake-up call reminding us that the problems we face as a nation transcend Ferguson. Fifty years after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, our society is still not free from bias, racial prejudice, and discrimination.”

The group, which normally acts as an anti-Semitism watchdog, denounced the violent clashes in Ferguson which broke out after the verdict, and said it respected the legal ruling.

“We were not in the grand jury room, we did not see the evidence, but we respect the grand jury’s integrity and their commitment to meeting the heavy responsibility thrust upon them. Friends of the Brown family, members of his community, and people across the nation may disagree with the outcome, and that is their right. But disagreement is never an excuse for violence,” the statement read.

The decision not to indict Wilson means the police officer will not face any state criminal charges in the shooting, which reignited debates over relations between police and minority communities, even in cities far from Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where Brown died.

The ADL's Abe Foxman. (photo credit: Courtesy Shilo Productions)
The ADL’s Abe Foxman. (photo credit: Courtesy Shilo Productions)

Protesters overturned barricades and swarmed the steps of the St. Louis federal courthouse Tuesday in the second day of protests over a grand jury decision’s not to indict a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old — one of America’s most racially charged cases in recent years.

About 300 people marched from a park to the courthouse and remained there for about 30 minutes before heading elsewhere. They chanted “You didn’t indict. We shall fight.”

It was one of several protests in the St. Louis area Tuesday.

Missouri Govenor Jay Nixon said more than 2,200 National Guardsmen will be in place in the region near Ferguson on Tuesday night in the event of more violence.

In Ferguson, smoke billowed from the blackened shells of burned-out businesses, and glass littered the sidewalks in front of stores whose display windows were smashed during protests overnight.

Nixon said 700 guardsmen were in the area on Monday night, when more than a dozen buildings were set on fire and otherwise vandalized.

Ferguson’s mayor said earlier in the day that the National Guard wasn’t deployed quickly enough as violent protests broke out.

The destruction appeared to be much worse than protests that erupted after Brown’s death, with more than a dozen businesses badly damaged or destroyed. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames.

The violence erupted despite pleas for calm from the Brown family and President Barack Obama, who tried to strike a middle ground as he addressed the tensions. America’s first black president said the case demonstrates how a legacy of racial discrimination has fed distrust between law enforcement and minorities, but he also sought to dispel the notion that race relations have deteriorated.

Wilson’s lawyers issued a statement praising the grand jury’s decision and saying the officer, who has remained out of the public eye since the shooting, is grateful to his supporters.

“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions,” the lawyers wrote. “Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.”

There were 61 arrests in Ferguson overnight, many for burglary and trespassing, St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman said. There were 21 arrests in St. Louis, the city’s Mayor Francis Slay said.

At least 18 people were injured, including one person who recovering from a gunshot wound at an area hospital.

Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said witnesses had given the grand jury inconsistent accounts of the shooting, including whether Brown’s hands were raised and whether he was stumbling or charging toward Wilson.

Speaking to reporters for nearly 45 minutes, McCulloch never mentioned that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.

As McCulloch read his statement Monday, Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, sat atop a vehicle listening to a broadcast of the announcement. When she heard the decision, she burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked away by supporters.

Brown’s family released a statement Tuesday saying they were “profoundly disappointed” but asked that the public “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”

Authorities released more than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents, including Wilson’s testimony.

Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking in a street and, when he told them to move to a sidewalk, Brown responded with an expletive. Wilson then noticed that Brown had a handful of cigars, “and that’s when it clicked for me,” he said, referring to a radio report minutes earlier of a robbery at a nearby convenience store.

Wilson said he asked a dispatcher to send additional police, and then backed his vehicle up in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Wilson said Brown slammed it back shut.

The officer said he pushed Brown with the door and Brown hit him in the face. Wilson told grand jurors he was thinking: “What do I do not to get beaten inside my car.”

“I drew my gun,” Wilson told the grand jury. “I said, ‘Get back or I’m going to shoot you.’

“He immediately grabs my gun and says, ‘You are too much of a pussy to shoot me,'” Wilson told grand jurors. He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right hand, twisted it and “digs it into my hip.”

Asked why he felt the need to pull his gun, Wilson told grand jurors he was concerned another punch to his face could “knock me out or worse.”

After shots were fired in the vehicle, Brown fled and Wilson gave chase. At some point, Brown turned around to face the officer.

Thousands of people rallied — mostly peacefully — in other US cities on Monday night.

The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount a prosecution. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.

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