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ST. LOUIS • Criminals used the cover of organized protests to smash windows and steal from businesses along Grand Boulevard, the St. Louis police chief said Tuesday morning.

Protesters shut down nearby Interstate 44, which distracted police while criminals broke business windows along about a three-block stretch of Grand, Chief Sam Dotson said at a news conference.

The St. Louis Bread Co. and a FedEx store were among the busineses damaged, and 21 people were arrested, Dotson said.

"We'll have more resources deployed to this corridor tonight," he said.

Monday night's protests came on the heels of the announcement that a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Ferguson was the site of the most unrest, with some businesses torched and looted.

But in the city of St. Louis, the businesses damaged were near Grand and Arsenal Street. It's in the Tower Grove South neighborhood and not far from St. Louis city's Shaw neighborhood, which was the scene of another fatal police shooting from October.

Of the 21 arrests in St. Louis, 15 were on felony charges, police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said. Those charges included property damage, burglary and knowingly burning.

Some of the suspects carried weapons, police said. Two people in a stolen car at Grand and Gravois Avenue were arrested with two handguns in their possession. Another person at Grand and Arsenal Street had a gun. 

Police also said 21 businesses on Grand Avenue had windows smashed out, including Rooster, the U.S. Post Office, AT&T, Qdoba, King and I, and the International Market. Burglaries were reported at the Walgreens at 3945 Gravois and the Radio Shack at 3517 Hampton Avenue.

They were boarded up quickly and, early Tuesday, neighbors had grabbed brooms and plastic bags and were sweeping up the sidewalk of any glass or debris. "It's just crazy," said one neighbor, as she tidied up. Two police officers walked along Grand and jotted down notes about the damage.

There also were six other incidents of windows smashed around the city, including a clothing store at 1308 Washington Avenue and the Bank of America at Grand and Gravois, Jackson said.

The police chief said most of the trouble was confined to a small section of St. Louis, and he didn't want people to think it has paralyzed the city before the Thanksgiving holiday.

"It's important to remember, the area of protesting we saw last night was about three blocks of the entire city, so you can go about your daily business," Dotson said. "Businesses are open ... Get ready for Thanksgiving. That's really the message throughout the city of St. Louis.

"And if incidents like Grand Avenue happen again, we'll have resources there to respond to handle it," Dotson added.

Mayor Francis Slay said he was "disappointed" and "outraged" by all the violence that took place.

"The people that were committing violence, the people who were looting, the people that were smashing windows, that's not protesting. That's criminal conduct," Slay said. "It's something ... we are not gonna tolerate."

Dotson said the police had been distracted by the shutdown of Interstate 44 at Grand.

"It is interesting to note that, while the majority of protesters were at that end of Grand Avenue, the first window breaking smashings were happening at this end. So while the organized protesters were distracting us, criminals were taking advantage of that and starting to commit crimes on this end."

So police tactics will change a bit Tuesday night "to make sure that if the groups do divide, if there are multiple events happening, we have the resources to handle it," Dotson said.

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