01:29 - Source: CNN
Obama speaks as smoke fills the streets

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President Obama: Anger understandable, but protest peacefully

As Obama called for peace, protestors threw bottles, smashed car windows

Obama said tensions over case, in part, result of strained race relations

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Washington CNN —  

President Barack Obama called for calm Monday night, moments after a Missouri prosecutor announced there would be no indictment against the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.

His measured tone stood in stunning contrast to the images of violence on the streets of Ferguson that intensified on a split screen. As the President spoke – warning protesters that throwing bottles and smashing car windows won’t help – some members of the crowds of hundreds in Ferguson were doing just that. Police responded by firing tear gas.

Obama said anger over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson is an “understandable reaction.” But he urged protesters to remain peaceful and called on law enforcement officers in the city of Ferguson to exercise “care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur.”

“We are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” Obama said late Monday night. “There are Americans who agree with it and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”

Elsewhere in the country, angry demonstrators took to the streets peacefully in New York, Seattle, Chicago and Washington, as more than 120 vigils and gatherings were organized nationwide. Some are scheduled for Tuesday.

Holder: Federal Ferguson investigation will continue

The President said the inflamed tensions over the case, both in Ferguson and elsewhere, are in part a result of decades-old strains in race relations.

“There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it’ll make for good TV,” Obama said.

“But what we want to do is to make sure that we’re also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible – that the vast majority of people Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri and around the country are looking for,” he said. “I want to be partners with those folks and we need to lift up the kind of constructive dialogue that is taking place.”

Asked whether he will visit Ferguson, Obama said: “Let’s take a look and see how things are going.” He pointed to Attorney General Eric Holder’s visits to the area.

While most protesters demonstrated peacefully, the situation on the ground worsened overnight among smaller pockets of the Ferguson area. More than a dozen buildings were set ablaze. A police car was smash, while another was engulfed in fire.

Gunshots could be heard and looting took place.

In nearby Dellwood, a row of cars were set afire at a car dealership, as more businesses were torched.

The grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was sharply criticized by the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge, who called the proceedings a “miscarriage of justice.”

’A thousand Fergusons across America’

“It is a slap in the face to Americans nationwide who continue to hope and believe that justice will prevail,” the Ohio Democrat said. “This decision seems to underscore an unwritten rule that black lives hold no value; that you may kill black men in this country without consequences or repercussions. This is a frightening narrative for every parent and guardian of black and brown children, and another setback for race relations in America.”

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, said he joins Brown’s family in urging protesters to remain peaceful – and said he hopes to see law enforcement officers improve their tactics after Brown’s death.

“I’ve talked extensively to law enforcement officials to learn more about the tactics, resources, and procedures that our first responders utilize statewide,” Blunt said in a statement. “Law enforcement officials have been candid in identifying ways officers could have handled the situation in Ferguson better, and I trust those recommendations will be helpful as we continue to count on them to protect us.”

Complete coverage of what’s happening in Ferguson

Ashley Killough, Holly Yan and Moni Basu contributed to this report.