CLAYTON • The St. Louis County prosecutor stood in front of cameras on Monday evening, and delivered the news:
The announcement drove hundreds into the streets. From Ferguson to Shaw to Clayton, the region has braced for this night for more than three months.
The August shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown turned the eyes of the world to Ferguson. Brown’s death triggered months of protests, and focused national concerns about policing and race on a suburban St. Louis community that had considered itself a strong example of racial harmony.
And it split the region into Wilson supporters and Brown supporters.
Some hope St. Louis will never be the same. Others fear it won’t.
Monday night, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that Wilson will not face state criminal charges in the killing of Brown in Ferguson.
McCulloch said the 12-member grand jury considered a range of charges from murder in the first degree to involuntary manslaughter before deciding not to indict.
But McCulloch also said the protests spawned by the shooting have started an important conversation.
“It’s opened old wounds and given us an opportunity to address those wounds,” he said. “I urge everybody who’s engaged in the conversation, who’s engaged in the demonstrations, to keep that going and not let that go.”
A separate federal investigation into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights is continuing, officials said. McCulloch said the two investigations had worked in harmony and evidence was shared among investigators.
Officials, Brown’s family and some protest leaders pleaded for a peaceful reaction to news that seemed certain to anger those who called for Wilson’s arrest and immediate prosecution for murder.
The family of Brown said in a statement that they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
But they urged protesters to avoid violence.
“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” they said in the statement. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”
McCulloch’s announcement drew immediate response from area politicians, some who said they were upset by the ruling, many who called for the work to continue, and all who urged peaceful protests.
‘THE WORLD IS WATCHING’
Gov. Jay Nixon called on Missouri to “use the lessons we have learned these past four months to create safer, stronger and more united communities.”
“The world is watching,” Nixon said in the statement. “I am confident that together we will demonstrate the true strength and character of this region, and seize this opportunity to build a more just and prosperous future for all.”
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley asked the St. Louis region to “begin the hard work of healing.”
“The grand jury has done its work and now we must do ours,” Dooley said in the statement. “This will be a long road but it is one we must surely travel.”
Others expressed their disappointment.
Congressman William Lacy Clay said that the grand jury decision was “extremely disappointing but not unexpected.” He pledged to continue to press for a thorough federal investigation through Attorney General Eric Holder’s office.
“The justice system did not work well at all,” Clay said. “I think it put St. Louis in a light that certainly doesn’t symbolize a first-class city.”
The country has two types of policing, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. One has been for wealthy, privileged citizens, and another for communities of color and poverty.
“The Michael Brown situation has raised to the consciousness of all communities these different types of policing,” Mittman said.
“We, as a country, are aware that something matters here.”
It’s been a tense, brooding three months in St. Louis.
Wilson shot Brown on Aug. 9. His body fell, facedown, in the middle of Canfield Drive, and lay there for four hours.
Within seconds, residents of the Canfield Green apartments poured outside. They lined the police tape surrounding the scene. They yelled at officers. They took photos and videos. And they started to post the images on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Within hours, the picture of Brown’s body and blood in the street spread across the world.
Then witnesses began to come forward. And the story of the struggle took shape. Early witnesses said Wilson grabbed Brown, and Brown ran, Wilson firing after him. Brown, they said, stopped, turned and raised his hands, as if surrendering.
Police said it was Brown who attacked Wilson.
And, just like that, residents here and across the country began to take sides.
Protesters gathered in the Ferguson streets nightly, sometimes building to violence by the evening. Some broke into stores. The QuikTrip on West Florissant Avenue was sacked and burned.
Police responded with armored trucks, tear gas, batons, helmets and dogs. Hundreds have been arrested.
The clashes aggravated tension.
Protesters gathered 20,000 signatures to remove McCulloch.
Nixon, too, came under fire for refusing to remove McCulloch.
And many, from politicians to activists to residents, decried the police’s militarized response to the nights of protests.
In the aftermath, the U.S. Department of Justice opened investigations into Brown’s shooting as well as a civil rights inquiry into the Ferguson Police Department. At the same time, the Justice Department began training St. Louis County Police on community-policing standards.
All the while, the region’s residents held their collective breath, some weary of the injustice, others of the protest itself.
PLYWOOD AND PLASTIC
By Sunday, boards covered block after block of windows along West Florissant Avenue. Workers had pasted shatter-proof film on windows at the county jail. At least one school district canceled classes early.
But Monday brought a new flurry across the region.
Workers plastic-wrapped statues in Clayton to prevent graffiti. Firefighters screwed plywood around the Clayton firehouse bell. QuikTrip closed four gas stations in and near Ferguson. Pappy’s locked up early at its beloved midtown barbecue joint. Two of the region’s major malls — Plaza Frontenac and St. Louis Galleria — closed early.
And one school district after another called off Tuesday classes.
Protesters began to gather in the evening across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. By the time McCulloch stepped to the podium to deliver Monday’s news, the crowd had grown to a few hundred.
As he spoke, the crowd began to churn. Some strained to hear the prosecutor on car radios.
McCulloch, in his speech, rejected some witness testimony, particularly those who talked to the media. “Many witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown made statements inconsistent with other statements they made and also conflicting with the physical evidence,” he said. “Some were refuted by the physical evidence.”
Wilson, for instance, never shot Brown in the back.
“The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation,” McCulloch said, “has been the 24-hour news cycle, and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the nonstop rumors on social media.”
Historians and civil rights leaders say Ferguson represents a new consciousness in St. Louis.
“It’s kind of a remarkable moment,” said Margaret Garb, an associate professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis. “We haven’t had a major protest and major civil rights movement in a long time.”
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis city chapter of the NAACP, said the duration and worldwide exposure of these protests have given them a unique place in St. Louis history. “I’m not sure if there’s anything to measure it against,” he said.
“I hate to say this,” he added, “but we’re still in the early stages of this one.”
Jessica Bock, Nancy Cambria, Elisa Crouch, Kevin McDermott, Tim O’Neil of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.