After St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch concluded his announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, demonstrations outside police headquarters in Ferguson quickly turned chaotic.
Following an initial period of calm, multiple gunshots rang out. A crowd of demonstrators rushed toward the area where the shots were fired, and police moved to block the street and push people back onto the sidewalks.
Live video of the unrest showed a crowd attempting to overturn a St. Louis County cop car and shattering the back windows of the vehicle. A second police vehicle later erupted in flames, with the ammunition inside popping as it burned. Multiple buildings in Ferguson — including a Little Caesars restaurant, a storage center, and a meat market — caught fire and burned. An AutoZone auto parts store was reduced to an enormous fireball spewing black smoke into the night.
"It was bound to happen," 21-year-old Ferguson resident Michele Fitzgerald told VICE News. "Not only Ferguson but all the municipalities in the county, all the police do is fuck with you. They stopping people, harassing people, especially black people. They pull you over for little things."
A VICE News reporter on the ground in Ferguson observed people smashing windows at nearby restaurants, including a Quizno's and a local Mexican restaurant. Looters were seen exiting beauty supply stores and a Walgreens carrying armfuls of goods.
Officers were stationed on the roof of Ferguson police headquarters and a helicopter hovered overhead, its spotlight casting long shadows. The city's Christmas decorations — a string of red lights that spelled out "Seasons Greetings" — made the scene seem surreal.
About 40 state troopers dressed all in black wearing helmets and carrying shields stood guard in front of the building. Young people in hoodies with bandanas over their faces hurled insults at the officers. Several protesters wore Guy Fawkes masks associated with the group Anonymous.
"You are a traitor!" a black protester screamed at black police officer. "How do you stand with them when you know they are wrong?"
Aerial footage showed gas being fired into the crowd by police. A VICE News reporter saw protesters throwing gas canisters back at police. St. Louis County police initially said in a statement that, despite reports on the ground to the contrary, tear gas had not been deployed, and that it was actually smoke being used to break up "unruly" crowds. They later admitted that tear gas was indeed fired.
Protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and hunks of concrete, chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets!" Pops of gunfire could be heard intermittently throughout the night.
"That's maybe a few instigators versus hundreds of peaceful protestors," 45-year-old Charles Mayo told VICE News, speaking about the unrest. "Let 'em vent, let 'em scream, it'll get cold and people will go home. But we're getting buffaloed and bullied out here."
"You need to stop throwing rocks at police or you will be subject to arrest," police said through a loudspeaker. "You need to disperse immediately."
The FAA implemented a no-fly zone over the St. Louis area, "to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities."
A police officer was reportedly shot in University City — a St. Louis County suburb five miles southwest of Ferguson — but it was not clear if the incident was connected to the rioting.
"I don't support none of this burning, this looting, but what I do support is that these people are standing the fuck up," Kevin Smith, 30, told VICE News as a Ferguson beauty shop burned behind him. "It's the only way we can get attention."