ALTON — Despite widespread social media reports to the contrary, Greater Alton remained quiet following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson Monday night.
As of press time on Tuesday, Alton remained calm, and it was business as usual for the Alton Police Department.
“Alton is very safe,” police chief Jason “Jake” Simmons told AdVantage News just prior to the verdict.
The city bumped up its patrols following the decision, putting officers on 48-hour shifts and frequenting areas that had potential to become trouble spots. As reports of rioting and looting began to emerge from St. Louis in general and Ferguson in particular, postings also began to surface on Facebook and Twitter, claiming incidents of rioting and burning were happening in Alton, as well.
Simmons reiterated not only was Alton quiet, but nearby municipalities on the Illinois side also were reporting little to no disturbance.
Representatives from Wood River, East Alton and Bethalto also confirmed no real repercussions in their municipalities from the grand jury’s announcement.
Just after 8 p.m. Monday, prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury would seek no indictments against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. Despite pleas of peaceful protests from city leaders as well as Brown’s father, rioting and looting began shortly after the announcement.
Even as President Obama spoke of peace, live footage continued to emerge of cars on fire and tear gas being aimed in the direction of rioters. By Tuesday morning, reports of gunshots were widely reported, multiple vehicles along with at least a dozen businesses had burned, and more than 80 people had been arrested.
Less violent protests also were held in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
The smoke still drifted through the air down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson Tuesday morning while protesters and onlookers surveyed the scene from Monday night’s events.
Renae Williams of St. Louis brought her 6-year-old son Cameron Gaskin to see the aftermath of the riots and civil disobedience that filled the national airwaves until the early morning hours to teach him a valuable life lesson.
“Messing St. Louis up is not going to bring any justice for anybody,” Williams said. “All this is going to do is create more problems for us. To raise a young man in this type of world is so hard. It’s hard to explain to him why bad things like this happen. He will grow up in a world that will really never be right, but for things like this to happen right before our eyes — it’s wrong and sad.”
Many of the onlookers who walked up and down West Florissant spoke of Monday night’s events as though they knew the situation would have occurred no matter what the grand jury decided.
“In all honesty, I do believe that the riots would have happened regardless of the decision,” Williams said. “For some people, this is celebration.”
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley walked down West Florissant talking with protesters and overseeing the damage at the Auto Buy Credit dealership, which burned until the early morning hours because gunfire prevented firefighters from immediately getting to the area. Dooley said he hoped to spread the word of moving forward in Ferguson.
“Last night’s events following the announcement resulted in a lot of disappointments, but moving forward is the first step,” Dooley said. “There is a law of the land, a process that takes place — that was the process and it is what it is — we have to figure out how to move forward. Violence is just not the answer. Destroying people’s property is not the way to do it; it’s not the way to be heard. Education, job training and jobs are a thing of value in this community. Destroying those values is no way to build up this community. But we also have to consider how we put value on a life. That’s the real hurt here. With reactions like this, the value of Michael Brown’s life is diminished. That’s what is unfortunate.”
Simmons said the Alton Police Department would continue to be alert and on patrol in the days following the decision to ensure illegal activity does not travel across the Mississippi River into his jurisdiction.
Tuesday morning, the Alton High School Marching 100 and the AHS cheerleaders canceled plans to participate in the Ameren Missouri Thanksgiving Day Parade due to safety concerns.