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Streets of Ferguson quiet after unrest

27 November 2014, 10:44

Ferguson - The streets of Ferguson, Missouri, were mostly quiet on Wednesday after two nights of racially charged unrest following a US grand jury decision to clear a white policeman over the killing of an unarmed black teenager.

A couple of dozen protesters huddled in the falling snow outside police headquarters in the St Louis suburb, in sharp contrast to the hundreds who took the streets on Monday in a night of arson, looting, sporadic gunfire and clashes with police that ended in more than 60 arrests.

Another 45 protesters were taken into custody in smaller, more isolated bursts of lawlessness that erupted after dark on Tuesday.

The decision of the St Louis County grand jury to clear officer Darren Wilson of criminal charges in the August 9 slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown has sparked a wave of demonstrations across the country, culminating in more than 400 arrests.

The case has exposed long-running strains in Ferguson between its predominantly black residents and a white-dominated political and law enforcement establishment while renewing a debate about race relations in the US as a whole.

Still, with freezing weather hitting much of the nation on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, demonstrations around the country dwindled on Wednesday in size and intensity.

Nowhere were waning passions in the street more pronounced than in and around Ferguson itself, where some 2 200 National Guard troops called out by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon were backing up local police.

"The ramped-up presence and action of the Missouri National Guard has been helpful," Nixon said on Wednesday after facing criticism for not deploying enough troops in the immediate hours after the grand jury's decision was announced Monday evening.

About a half-dozen members of the clergy, wearing orange vests, also milled about on Wednesday night among the protesters, most of whom stood quietly in the snow, as passing motorists occasionally honked their horns in support.

Racial tensions exposed

Tensions between police and black Americans have simmered for decades, with many blacks feeling the US legal system and law enforcement authorities do not treat them fairly.

In Washington, President Barack Obama has tried to keep a lid on the anger. He remained cautious in his comments in the immediate aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, but has been more expansive in recent days including remarks at the White House after the grand jury's decision. On Monday he said deep distrust exists between police and minorities and that "communities of color aren't just making these problems up".

St. Louis police said three people were arrested at a protest near City Hall on Wednesday in which activists staged a mock trial of Wilson, who in grand jury testimony and in a subsequent ABC News interview said that he shot Brown because he feared for his life.

A northern suburb of St Louis, Ferguson's 21 000 population is mixed, with 63% of the residents African-American and 34% white, according to 2010 US Census data. Ferguson's mayor, James Knowles, is white, as are most of its city council members.

A 2013 state attorney general's report found more than 85% of motorists pulled over in the city are black, and the arrest rate among blacks is twice the rate among white residents.

The Justice Department has been investigating whether to bring federal civil rights charges against Wilson and the Ferguson police department.

Also read: Ferguson cleans up, but passions still inflamed

"The sad fact is that it brings up issues that we've been struggling with in this country for a long, long time," said Matthew Green, an associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America.

"These are not problems and issues that are going to get resolved by one president in the remainder of his term."

The crowds in Ferguson were smaller and more controlled than on Monday, when about a dozen businesses were torched and others were looted amid rock-throwing and sporadic gunfire from protesters and volleys of tear gas fired by police.

Two FBI agents were shot and wounded at a house in north St Louis County early on Wednesday and the suspect was dead in an incident not related to the racially charged unrest around nearby Ferguson, officials said.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Roberta Rampton, Julia Edwards and Lawrence Hurley in Washington, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Carey Gillam in Kansas City, David Bailey in Minneapolis, Fiona Ortiz and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and Laila Kearney, Letitia Stein and Sebastien Malo in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Frank McGurty; Editing by Will Dunham, Bernard Orr and Jeremy Laurence)

- Reuters


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