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What happened in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting and grand jury decision?

Following the shooting of Michael Brown, Ferguson residents protested what many viewed as unfair treatment of the black community. Police responded with a highly armed presence meant to contain demonstrators and prevent rioting, but the situation often spiraled out of control as anger at police and the aggressive response toward largely peaceful demonstrations boiled over into violence.

After the grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, demonstrations briefly escalated. Some protesters got violent and reportedly fired shots and set buildings and cars on fire. (These acts of violence were disavowed by protest leaders, who have tried to keep the demonstrations peaceful.)

A police officer watches over protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.
Scott Olson/Getty Images News

The protests have been very volatile, largely depending on the latest news and police actions. Sometimes the atmosphere is essentially festive, with police taking little to no action against demonstrators. Other times reports of thrown objects, gunshots, Molotov cocktails, and looting prompted police reactions, and the situation often spiraled into further chaos. Protesters and media complained that police at times moved in with tear gas and other weapons when demonstrators were acting largely peacefully, which caused the situation to unnecessarily escalate.

Law enforcement officials deployed heavily armed teams to try to contain the situation. Police blocked the roads and dispersed protesters on several nights with military-grade equipment, including body armor, rifles, tear gas, rubber bullets, and even armored, mine-resistant vehicles that are basically tanks. The goal, they argued, was to keep protesters from blocking the roads and prevent violence.

But the reality is that the heavy-handed response made cops look like an occupying force to protesters, which further enflamed tensions within a community that was already upset that one of their own had been killed by a police officer.