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Violence follows Ferguson verdict

28 November 2014

by a staff reporter


Listening: Michael Brown, sen., the father of the dead teenager, attends a news confer­ence after the Grand Jury's verdict, which led to riots in Ferguson

Listening: Michael Brown, sen., the father of the dead teenager, attends a news confer­ence after the Grand Jury's verdict, which l...

PRAYER vigils were held in churches across St Louis, Missouri, as violent unrest shook the streets after a jury verdict not to bring charges over the killing of a black teenager, Michael Brown.

The decision not to charge Darren Wilson, a white policeman, over the shooting of Mr Brown, aged 18, in August this year was heard with fear and trembling by many, who feared a return to the violence of last August, when the killing sparked days of violence on the streets (News, 22 August).

A silent vigil was held in Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in St Louis as the verdict was read out by the Dean, the Very Revd Mike Kinman. After a period of silence, he then read a prayer of forgiveness written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The vigil continued for 24 hours.

Later, the Dean tweeted: "I weep for all in harm's way, for all suffering loss & for how much violence will cement the worst images in people's minds of Black America."

Many in the African-American community had called for Mr Wilson to be charged with murder, but, after three months of deliberation, a Missouri grand jury - of nine white and three black members - made no recommendation of charges.

President Obama joined the Mr Brown's family on Monday in appealing for calm, urging Americans to accept that the decision was "the grand jury's to make''.

But the unrest that broke out, after the verdict was announced on Monday, in the city of Ferguson in St Louis, where Mr Brown died, was said to be worse than on any night since the teenager's death.

Flood Christian Church, where Mr Brown's father was baptised last weekend, was torched on Monday night. Its founder, the Revd Carlton Lee, told NBC News that he believed it was targeted because he had called for the arrest of Mr Wilson.

The Rector of St Stephen's, Ferguson, the Revd Steve Lawlor, said that the unrest was more serious than in August, and that he expected worse to come, but that Thanksgiving weekend might keep people off the streets.

"The protests started peacefully but soon accelerated, and when the police fired tear gas, things got pretty intense. . . When things accelerated, many people left."

St Stephen's remained unharmed as of Tuesday, although only a block away many shops were looted and burnt. Mr Lawlor said that the church was being used as a base for food deliveries, counselling, and childcare, as schools were closed. Some neighbourhoods of Ferguson were still locked down by police, and members of the congregation were waiting to be allowed to distribute food parcels inside.

A clean-up team from the church, which has a multi-racial congregation, was also taking to the streets to try to repair some of the damage caused by protesters. Some churches were offering "sanctuary spaces" for protesters, and others were opening for 24 hours a day as prayer spaces for demonstrators.

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