America erupted in black fury after a grand jury chose not to indict Darren Brown, white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown after a roadside confrontation Ferguson, Missouri, in August this year.
Rioting and looting began in Ferguson, where racial tension has been boiling for days, even as the prosecutor Bob McCulloch was still reading the grand jury decision in an event that was telecast live across the country.
Brown's family, friends, supporters, and civil liberties activists were listening to the broadcast the moment McCulloch announced the grand jury had decided "no probable cause exists to file any charge against officer Wilson," his mother Lesley McSpadden burst into tears and the gathering began raging in anger.
In a lengthy preamble evidently aimed at softening the blow, McCulloch said the jury of nine whites and three blacks met on 25 separate days and heard more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners and other experts on blood, toxicology and firearms before arriving at their decision.
He stressed that jurors were "the only people who heard every witness ... and every piece of evidence," and while blaming the media for the heightened attention to the proceedings, he maintained that the "decision was made by physical evidence and not the public outcry."
Even in their grief, the Brown family soon issued a statement calling for peace and calm as angry young black men began rampaging through the streets.
"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you 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," they said.
They asked people to join them in their campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets of America wears a body camera so that their actions could be monitored. "We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction. Let's not just make noise, let's make a difference," they added.
Indeed, demonstrators gathered in public squares coast to coast from California to New York in mostly peaceful protests while others vented on social media in one of the most racially charged nights in US history. While gun shots and tear gas exploded in Ferguson where law enforcement authorities were amassed in strength, the situation appeared less fraught elsewhere.
US President Obama too took to the air to echo the Brown family's call for peace in circumspect remarks that trod a fine line between supporting the primacy of rule of law and its enforcement and giving voice to the alienated and disenfranchised black youth of the country. '"The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country," Obama acknowledged.
Citing his own example, the US president said one could not deny that America had made enormous progress in race but what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren't just making these problems up. "Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress," he added.
Blacks were less restrained on social media, much less on the streets in Ferguson where an inflamed crowd vandalized a Patel-owned store where Michael Brown's brush with the law began. It was only after a store clerk alerted police to Brown and a companion decamping without paying for a box of cigarillos that Darren Wilson flagged them for attention as they were romping on the street. Wilson's version is that Brown attacked him when he asked him to get off the street and he was forced to respond.
"From the onset, we have maintained and the grand jury agreed that officer Wilson's actions on August 9 were in accordance with the laws and regulations that govern the procedures of an officer. Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions. Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law," his attorneys said in a statement.
For that black community, that still did not warrant Wilson loosing off 12 bullets at an unarmed black man. "Shoplifting does not warrant one to be shot dead," read one tweet. Another said: "America can patrol other countries & force justice everywhere else except for in America."