FERGUSON, Mo. — In the moments before St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the decision of the grand jury on the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, Ferguson resident Crystal Jones, 38, clenched her hands and pressed them to her mouth as she joined a crowd around a car parked in the middle of South Florissant Road, near the Ferguson Police Department.
She was attending her first event having to do with the killing of Brown, an unarmed black Ferguson teen by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in August. “This is my neighborhood … and I just wanted to be a part of it,” said Jones.
The crowd quieted so people could hear McCulloch’s muffled voice coming from the car’s stereo.
When McCulloch finally announced that a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, Jones, who is black, turned and walked away. When asked how she felt about the decision, she only shook her head.
Within minutes, police spilled out of the police department, wearing helmets and carrying shields and batons. Soon cars and buildings burned. Dozens of shots rang out. Police fired tear gas canisters at protesters.
Although most of Ferguson remained peaceful throughout the night, two of its small-business thoroughfares showed evidence of violent protests by early Tuesday morning. In less than a mile of South Florissant Road, nearly 15 businesses had shattered glass storefronts. At 3 a.m., as the owner of one of those businesses — Corner Coffee House — boarded his broken windows, five buildings smoldered nearby on a single block of West Florissant Avenue.
Earlier in the evening, Jazmine Green, 21, of Ferguson, stood a few dozen feet from police officers as they blocked the intersection of South Florissant Road and Paul Avenue. Two police cars burned nearby.
“I want to see change, but I’m preparing for the worst, honestly,” said Green, who is black. “Our city has been burning for years now, to be honest. It’s sad to see it happen like this, but the Mike Brown situation is the last straw.”
At another corner of the same intersection, a 28-year-old Ferguson resident who asked to be identified only by her first name, Lindsay, sat on a barstool in Marley’s Bar and Grill and watched the scene outside the window.
“Burning businesses and stealing weaves don’t help the cause they’re trying to promote,” said Linsday, who is white. Most of the 20 or so other customers in Marley’s were also white. “It’s horrible. Ferguson is a great community. We’ve worked so hard to make it nice,” she said. “America sees Ferguson as only a negative place.”
Shellie Robinson, 44, an activist in the black community, said she didn’t know if younger protesters are prepared for the emotional pain that would come as the decision sinks in.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “I don’t know what I can teach them if they never win. Once again we fail. It’s a harsh reality for a community that never wins.”
“The only thing they have to look forward to now is Christmas,” Robinson said as she stood on South Florissant Road near the police station.
Around her, holiday tinsel coiled around streetlight poles topped with red bows.
Soon after Robinson left to the sound of nearby gunshots, two large armored vehicles arrived. Above them, an illuminated sign reading “Seasons greetings” stretched across the street.
Less than a block away, Reese Loc, a 28-year-old Ferguson resident who is black, walked in the middle of South Florissant Road, carrying a black and white American flag. He said it represented America's distress.
“I’m extremely angry," he said of the grand jury decision. "I can’t believe they treat us like this after all these years.”
Rhonda Jones, 46, stood on a ridge outside her apartment watching flame and smoke billow out of a strip mall on West Florissant Avenue below.
For her, the scene recalled the violence that followed the Rodney King trial in 1992. Then, four white officers were acquitted of beating King, who was black, in 1991, after a high-speed chase — even though a video showed King being struck by police dozens of times. The riots left more than 50 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.
“We’re going back," Jones said. "We’re sure not going forward. All I can say is that may God be with Ferguson right now.”