It started with silence as the crowd strained to listen to the prosecutor over the radio. Then tears gushed from the eyes of Michael Brown's mother.

No indictment. The white police officer who shot dead her unarmed 18-year-old son more than three months ago in the predominantly African American suburb of Ferguson outside St Louis, Missouri would not face trial.

Within minutes blind rage would take hold. Agitators went on the rampage, smashing windows, looting stores, attacking a police car and torching buildings.

But first supporters hugged mother Lesley McSpadden, taking her into their arms.

"We're with you. We love you, we support you," murmured the crowd watching her breakdown and scream out, wracked with pain.

"Defend himself from what? What was he defending himself from? Tell me that.

"Everybody want me to be calm. Do you know how them bullets hit my son? What they did to his body? Aint nobody had to live through what I had to live through," she said.

"Why, oh why? Why?" she cried.

Resignation, disappointment, shock and anger took hold. The protest attended by several hundred outside Ferguson police department degenerated into chaos.

"No justice, no peace," they shouted. "Hey, hey, ho, ho these killer cops have got to go."

The tension built quickly. Agitators wove through the crowd, aggressive and angry, taunting police, screaming at protesters being interviewed by TV cameras.

-   Widespread looting  -

Protesters lobbed glass bottles as police in full riot gear huddled behind their cordon at the police station, initially impervious to the chants.

Trouble came after protesters led a march down the street towards St Louis County police, seemingly hungry for a standoff. Rocks flew. A police car was smashed and set alight, shop windows reduced to shards.

A cell phone store was stripped of valuables.

"You need to stop throwing rocks immediately at our police or you will be subject to arrest," an officer shouted repeatedly through a loudspeaker.

Then came the tear gas. Protesters fled. Others egged on the police. Journalists put on their gas masks. In a backstreet, a panicked young man came running from a car, yelling at police to call an ambulance.

Someone was having a heart attack, he said. Officers barred his way but muttered into their walkie-talkies. Help was on the way, they said.

Despite the chaos, peaceful protesters young and old stood on the sidewalk, determined to stand their ground.

It was about more than the death of an 18-year-old high school graduate who was preparing to go to technical college, they said.

"This is something they've always done. I'm 63 years old I have seen this back in the days with Martin Luther King. They never change and they ain't going to never change," one man, who refused to give his name, told AFP.

Some protesters engaged in a slanging match with police.

"You are allowed a peaceful protest on the sidewalk," shouted an officer. "Are you saying that so you can tear gas us and violate our civil rights?" shouted back one woman. "We need our police to be peaceful," she said.

But there was little sign that protests would let up.

"I'm very disappointed. I'm very saddened. I'm very angry," Reverend Melissa Bennett told AFP. She accused police of using "excessive force" and vowed that peaceful protest would carry on until changes were wrought.

"I think we should just keep going until we get racial profiling laws on the books, until we get attention to this issue," she said, referring to the police practice of singling out blacks and other minorities for especially tought scrutiny.



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