FERGUSON, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vowed on Tuesday to halt further “lawlessness” in a still-smoldering St. Louis suburb as residents and business owners tried to make sense of the destruction that has followed a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
“Last night was a disaster. It’s very disappointing,” Nixon said. “Criminals intent on lawlessness and destruction terrorized this community. I am deeply saddened for the people of Ferguson who woke up this morning to see parts of their community in ruins.”
Nixon said more than 2,200 National Guard troops — triple the number from a night earlier — would take to the streets to prevent another round of arson and rioting.
Firefighters battled far more than flames and smoke during protests Monday night in Ferguson, as the work of rioters and arsonists fueled TV broadcasts and social media feeds across the nation.
A steady volley of gunfire prevented firefighters from even reaching 21 fires that raged for hours Monday night and early Tuesday.
Meanwhile, officer Darren Wilson broke his long public silence, insisting on national television that he could not have done anything differently in the confrontation with Brown.
Wilson’s interview with ABC News largely matched the testimony he gave to the St. Louis County grand jury, which was released Monday night.
The officer said Brown had charged toward him and reached into his squad car to grab his gun, leaving him no choice but to fire the fatal shots. Wilson told ABC that he was sorry that Brown had died but said he would not do anything differently and has a clean conscience.
Interviewer George Stephanopoulos asked whether Brown’s hands had been raised. “That would be incorrect,” Wilson replied. “No way.”
The protests continued in Ferguson. About 50 demonstrators converged on a barricade manned by 30 National Guard members. The group chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Two protesters wearing masks were arrested after refusing to comply with police instructions to get out of the street.
Authorities responded quickly when a police car was set on fire outside Ferguson city hall.
The car appeared to have been torched by a group of people who had broken off from what had been a largely peaceful crowd.
Police used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames and many people scattered as additional officers responded to the scene, though many continued to gather near the damaged car.
Attorneys for the Brown family vowed to push for federal charges against Wilson and said the grand jury process was rigged from the start to clear Wilson.
“We said from the very beginning that the decision of this grand jury was going to be the direct reflection of the presentation of the evidence by the prosecutor’s office,” attorney Anthony Gray said. He suggested the county’s top prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, presented some testimony to discredit the process, including from witnesses who did not see the shooting.
Videos that were widely circulated on Tuesday showed Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, standing on top of a car and breaking down as the announcement of the grand jury decision blares over the stereo.
Her husband, Brown’s stepfather, comforts her, then begins angrily yelling “Burn the bitch down!” to a crowd gathered around him. Asked about the comment at a news conference, family attorney Benjamin Crump said the reaction was, “raw emotion. Not appropriate at all. Completely inappropriate.”
President Obama said he would work to address inequities in the nation’s law enforcement system.
“I want to work with you, and I want to move forward with you,” the president said, adding that he understood why many people were angry in the wake of Monday’s news that there will be no charges filed in Brown’s death. “The frustrations that people have generally, those are rooted in some hard truths that have to be addressed.”
Obama said he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to “set up a series of regional meetings focused on building trust in our communities” that will focus on “how to make sure that law enforcement is fair and is being applied equally to every person in this country.” The first will take place next week, he said.
“We need to make sure that we’re actually bringing about change,” he said. “And if any part of the American community doesn’t feel welcomed or treated fairly, that’s something that puts all of us at risk, and we have to be concerned about it.”
Obama decried the violence that has taken place in Ferguson. “Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk – that’s destructive, and there’s no excuse for it,” he said. “Those are criminal acts, and people should be prosecuted if they engage in criminal acts.”
The Justice Department has begun a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.
The Associated Press, Washington Post and St. Louis Dispatch contributed to this report.