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Obama asks for calm after no charges in shooting

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Enraged protesters set fire to buildings and cars and looted businesses in Ferguson after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the death an unarmed black 18-year-old, whose fatal shooting exposed deep racial tension between African-Americans and police. Ferguson burned through the night despite pleas for calm from President Barack Obama and the family of Michael Brown after St. Louis County's top prosecutor announced the officer faces no state criminal charges. Monday night's destruction appeared to be much worse than protests after Brown's August death. Authorities used tear gas to try to disperse protesters and reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames. Officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of Brown during an Aug. 9 confrontation ignited a fierce debate over how police treat young African-American men and focused attention on long-simmering racial tensions in Ferguson and around the U.S., four decades after the 1960s civil rights movement. Police were criticized for responding to protests with armored vehicles and tear gas. Those protests, which lasted for weeks, were often peaceful, but sometimes violent. Monday night's protests were "probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August" after Brown was killed, said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who added police had not yet fired a shot. He said the fabric of the community has been torn apart in Ferguson, a predominantly black community patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force. Belmar said that unless his agency could bring in 10,000 officers, "I don't think we can prevent folks who really are intent on destroying a community." Obama said Monday night from the White House that some Americans might but angry, but need to accept the grand jury's decision. "We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," Obama said. He echoed Brown's parents in calling for any protests to be peaceful. The vast majority of protesters had left the streets by late Monday, but looting and gunfire still were reported well after midnight. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch stressed that the grand jurors, who had met weekly since Aug. 20, were "the only people who heard every witness ... and every piece of evidence." He said many witnesses presented conflicting statements that ultimately were inconsistent with physical evidence. As McCulloch read his statement, Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, was sitting atop a vehicle listening to a broadcast of the announcement. When she heard the decision, she burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked away by supporters. Protesters poured into the streets, overran barricades and taunted police. Some chanted "murderer," others threw rocks and bottles or smashed windows out of police cars. Officers eventually lobbed tear gas from inside armored vehicles to disperse crowds. There were at least 29 arrests, police said. Thousands protested from Los Angeles to New York, leading marches, waving signs and shouting chants of "Hands Up! Don't Shoot," the slogan that has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings. The Federal Aviation Administration said it was diverting at least 10 flights St. Louis-bound flights because of reports of gunshots fired into the sky. Brown's family released a statement saying they were "profoundly disappointed" in the decision but asked that the public "channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen." Authorities released more than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents, including the testimony of Wilson, who hasn't been seen publicly since the shooting. Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking in a street and, when he told them to move to a sidewalk, Brown responded with an expletive. As he tried to open his police car's door, Wilson said Brown slammed it back shut. The officer said he then pushed Brown with the door and Brown hit him in the face. Wilson, saying he feared Brown could "knock me out or worse," warned he would shoot if Brown didn't back away. Wilson said Brown immediately tried grabbing his gun, then fled, and Wilson gave chase. Brown then turned around to face Wilson. Witness accounts were conflicted about whether Brown charged back toward Wilson before he was fatally shot, or whether Brown's hands were raised, McCulloch said. A state of emergency was preemptively declared in Ferguson by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who activated the National Guard to provide security. Ferguson recalled other racially charged cases, from the riots that rocked Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of white police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King to peaceful protests after the 2013 not-guilty verdict in the Florida slaying of an unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Obama, who has faced repeated calls to visit Ferguson, said he would "take a look" at whether such a visit would now be wise. Under Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges against Wilson. Justice Department lawyers face a difficult burden to meet: that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights. That is a high bar especially considering the wide latitude given to police officers in using deadly force. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination. Obama called for American communities and their police forces to unite in the wake of Brown's death. "That won't be done by throwing bottles. That won't be done by smashing car windows. That won't be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property," Obama said. "It certainly won't be done by hurting anybody."--AP