Obama: No excuse for Ferguson violence
President Barack Obama said Tuesday the anger and frustration of minority communities in dealing with law enforcement are no excuse for the violence and destruction of property that erupted in Missouri the night before.
Obama spoke in Chicago a day after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson.
The president said burning cars and buildings won't result in fairer enforcement of laws or diminish discrimination. He said destructive actions are criminal acts and those responsible should be prosecuted. "I have no sympathy at all," he said.
Instead, he said the anger over the decision in the case involving officer Darren Wilson and 18-year-old Michael Brown should be directed into political action to change the system.
"The frustrations that we've seen are not just about a particular incident," Obama said before giving a speech about immigration. "They have deep roots."
Obama, the nation's first black president, said that many in minority communities feel they aren't treated fairly "and it's not just made up." He promised to work with "those people who are constructively moving forward" to make changes.
The president spoke as darkness fell in the St. Louis suburb where authorities hoped to avoid a second night of chaos. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said more than 2,200 National Guardsmen, up from 700 Monday night, were in place near Ferguson. in the event of more violence.
People protesting the grand jury decision took to the streets in cities across the U.S. for a second day Tuesday, disrupting traffic in Ferguson and other cities, including Detroit, where police said six people were detained. In Washington, D.C., one group lay on the ground to stage a "die-in" in front of Metro police headquarters.
Outside police headquarters in Ferguson, one woman was taken into custody after protesters threw what appeared to be smoke bombs, flares and frozen water bottles at a line of officers. Two other protesters wearing masks were arrested after defying police instructions to get out of the street. The protesters planned to occupy various buildings in the district over 28 hours. Peaceful demonstrators marched in Seattle. Rallies also formed in New Jersey, Maine, Maryland and elsewhere.
Earlier Tuesday, attorneys for Brown's family vowed to push for federal charges against the officer, while the officer in<FZ,1,7,68>sisted in his first public statements that he could not have done anything differently in the confrontation.
During an interview with ABC News, Wilson said he has a clean conscience because "I know I did my job right."
Wilson, who has been on leave since the Aug. 9 shooting, had been with the Ferguson police force for less than three years. He told ABC that Brown's shooting marked the first time he had fired his gun.
Wilson says he felt like it was his duty to chase Brown after a confrontation at his police vehicle. When asked about witness accounts that Brown at one point turned toward Wilson and put his hands up, he responded "that would be incorrect."
White House officials are still considering whether Obama should travel to Ferguson, weighing the importance of the moment with the risk of inflaming tensions. They say a trip won't come this week with the Thanksgiving holiday, giving them time to watch the response unfold and consider the president's options.
The Brown family's attorneys said the grand jury process was rigged from the start to clear Wilson. They criticized everything from the types of evidence St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch presented to the jury, to the way it was presented and the timing of the grand jury's decision. They also said they hope that a federal civil rights investigation will result in charges against Wilson.
"We said from the very beginning that the decision of this grand jury was going to be the direct reflection of the presentation of the evidence by the prosecutor's office," said attorney Anthony Gray, who suggested McCulloch presented some testimony, including from witnesses who did not see the shooting, to discredit the process.
The Justice Department is conducting two inquiries in Ferguson. The first is reviewing whether Wilson violated federal civil-rights laws when he killed the teen. The other is a broader look at whether Ferguson police have a pattern of violating citizens' rights. Neither investigation is nearing completion.
Thousands of pages of grand jury testimony reviewed by the Associated Press show the encounter between the officer and the teen started off badly, and very quickly spiraled out of control.
Some witnesses called it a tussle. Others described it as a tug-of-war. Wilson testified that they were fighting over his handgun.
None of the witnesses who testified, other than Wilson, could say exactly what was happening inside his police car, but by almost all accounts, Brown was physically struggling with the officer through his open window moments before he was fatally shot.
Wilson blamed it on Brown, saying the teenager reached through his driver's side window, hit him in the face, called him a "pussy" and grabbed his gun. Wilson told the grand jury that he pulled the trigger twice in his own defense, but no shots went off.
"At this point I'm like, why isn't this working? This guy is going to kill me if he gets ahold of this gun. I pulled it a third time, it goes off."
That initial confrontation may help explain why jurors decided not to indict. If their initial struggle prompted Wilson to fear for his life, it could have met the legal standard for justifiable deadly force.
NAACP President Cornell William Brooks Tuesday described the grand jury's decision as a "brutal injustice."
"We do not intend to relent," Brooks said in an interview on CBS. "We do not intend to stop our call for a wholesale, fundamental reform of policing in this country."
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's decision to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision Monday evening drew complaints Tuesday from many who wondered whether that helped fan the flames of unrest and violence leading to destruction in the St. Louis suburb.
McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee defended the decision.
"We coordinated with law enforcement, gave schools time to get the children home and in a safe location, gave businesses time to make a decision regarding the safety of their employees ...," Magee said.
During the protests after the announcement, 12 commercial buildings in Ferguson were burned down, while others were looted, and vehicles were torched. Police arrested 61, many for burglary and trespassing, along with 21 in St. Louis, where protesters broke some store windows along South Grand Avenue.
Mayor Brian Fletcher said Tuesday that the National Guard wasn't deployed quickly enough as violent protests broke out.