FERGUSON, Missouri (CNN) — Some people here just wanted the drama to end. Others say it can never end, not as long as a white cop can shoot an unarmed black teenager to death without consequences.
On the street in front of Ferguson’s police station on Monday night, the tension crackled as hundreds of people awaited a grand jury’s decision and chanted demands for an indictment.
They were denied.
No indictment, the grand jury said.
Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged in the August 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“They don’t care about black people,” said Danielle Hines, in the throng outside the police station. “They treat us like criminals. This is what it feels like to be black in America.”
The crowd surged toward metal gates in front of the station. Some people were crying; many were angry. They threw their hands up and screamed. A chant arose, ” F*ck the police!”
They were met by a phalanx of cops in full riot gear.
“No justice, no peace!”
It soon turned ugly. Protesters turned their rage on police vehicles and boarded-up storefronts. The air was heavy with noxious gas. Police denied it was tear gas, but CNN reporters insisted they had been tear-gassed.
Brown’s shooting death ignited two weeks of violent protests last summer in Ferguson and rekindled the national debate on race and the criminal justice system. Supporters of Brown’s family backed witness accounts that Wilson fired while Brown had his hands up in surrender. Wilson’s supporters say that Brown was the aggressor and the officer fired in self-defense after the teen tried to take his gun.
‘I’m scared. This is so sad’
The emotional response to the grand jury decision spoke to issues far larger than Ferguson — to America’s deep racial divisions.
Deidre Johnson, who is raising four boys, had tears in her eyes as she learned the grand jury’s decision.
“I just know they can’t walk on our streets,” she said. “I’m scared. This is so sad.”
Another mother echoed her feelings. “I hate this for our youth,” said Shellie Robinson, who has a 19-year-old son. “We’ve been fighting for 100 days. This breaks my heart.”
The head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which for decades has fought racial injustice in the Deep South, said Ferguson underscores a flawed and biased justice system.
“The events in Ferguson have made vivid just how wide the gulf is between the police and those who are policed in so many communities in our country,” said Richard Cohen. “It’s a gulf that’s been formed by the history of discrimination in our country, a gulf that has been deepened by the systemic biases in our current criminal justice system. It’s a gulf that breeds suspicion and mistrust, a gulf that undermines the very legitimacy of our system of justice.”
President Barack Obama, speaking after the announcement, said: “We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”
At Morehouse College in Atlanta, about 200 students chanted: “Ferguson’s hell is America’s hell.” They chanted the names of other other black men and women killed by police and quoted civil rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His daughter, Rev. Bernice King, had hoped people would rise above anger and make history.
“Decades from now, what do we want historians to write about this moment?” she asked. She urged protesters to speak up, but refrain from violence.
“Historians, 40 years from now, can reflect that we decided to live in such a way that humanity could continue,” she said. “Nonviolence 365 (days a year) is the choice that we must make. The alternative may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation.”
‘This our moment, St. Louis’
Another religious leader, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, echoed calls for a restrained reaction. “This is our moment, St. Louis,” he said several hours before the grand jury’s findings were announced. “Whatever the grand jury decides, we can be an example for the rest of the world. Everyone is watching what we will do next, and violence is not the answer.”
Tory Wilson, co-founder of the “Hands Up United” organization, urged calm and restraint — by the police.
“I’m urging calm for the police officers to not pepper spray me, tear gas me, mace me and shoot rubber bullets,” he said. “People need to urge the police to be calm. Stop hurting kids, stop traumatizing our communities.”
Many questioned why, given the volatile emotions on the streets, prosecutors waited until long after darkness fell to announce the decision.
Tension had been building in Ferguson for days. A crowd gathered outside police headquarters Monday evening, chanting, “Indict that cop!” and “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”
Ray Lewis stood out among the demonstrators. He was white, and he wore a police uniform. He carried a sign that said, “Police: try love.”
A retired police captain from Philadelphia, Lewis came to support the protesters and draw attention to what he considers excessive use of force by police across the country.
“I wanted to bring a white police captain’s face to show people in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, that too often blacks are shown as rioting and as criminals. And that is just not true,” he said. “Think twice about judging this people.
He insisted he wasn’t anti-cop. “I am anti-corrupt cop,” he said.
He was surrounded by people chanting, “Mike Brown! Mike Brown!”
He said there’s a lot of truth to what’s being said about white cops not hesitating to pull the trigger on young black me. Police should recruit officers more sensitive to racial issues, Lewis said. Otherwise, police can be perceived as an occupying force.
“There’s a thousand Fergusons all over America.”