Officials: Ferguson area is prepared for protests – USA TODAY
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says police officers in the region are prepared to handle protestors but that excessive force by police will not be tolerated.
FERGUSON, Mo. — School and police authorities in this community are finalizing plans to deal with any unrest that might erupt after a grand jury announces whether it has indicted officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Some schools have opted to close next week, while police officials and protest organizers have collaborated on rules of engagement. Earlier this week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the state’s National Guard in advance of the decision.
“We have no information that would cause us to tell people not to do anything that they would normally do, go to work or go to school,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said. “But if something does happen, then we are prepared to handle it.”
Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and state Public Safety Director Daniel Isom said Friday that any response would focus on the safety of residents, protesters and local businesses.
“I expect the best out of people,” Dooley said. “Our community is counting on all of us and activists to have level heads and focus on the long term, systemic change that must take place.”
A St. Louis’ grand jury is expected to deliver its decision by the end of the month on whether to charge Wilson, 28, with the shooting death of Brown, 18. At issue is how Brown died. Police say Brown, who was unarmed, struggled with Wilson inside his police car, then reached for Wilson’s weapon. Brown’s family and some witnesses say Wilson killed Brown as he raised his hands in surrender.
The grand jury is still in session, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office said in an e-mail sent Friday.
Authorities have said they want to avert repetition of the chaos that followed the Aug. 9 shooting, when protesters clashed, sometimes violently, with police.
Police leaders have met five times with some protest leaders who had proposed 19 rules of engagement for police as they dealt with protesters, Slay said. Police agreed to 11 of them, including avoiding the use of excessive force and communicating with protest organizers to de-escalate tense situations, he said. The remainder, he said would interfere with police duties.
The Don’t Shoot Coalition, a group of about 50 local organizations formed after Brown’s death, asked police to avoid using armored vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets or rifles, and to don riot gear only as a last resort. Police rejected those demands.
City authorities and police commanders “agreed to most of the rules because they made sense, or we already follow them,” Slay said. “We did not agree to some of the proposed rules because those rules would have limited officers’ ability to keep people and property safe.”
Editorial writer George Hager breaks down the workings of the Ferguson grand jury including possible charges for officer Darren Wilson, the influence of the autopsies and a summary of the case being considered.
Police have received additional training since the Aug. 9 shooting, Isom said. Training focused on practicing restraint and the understanding of differing perspectives on an event, he said.
“People have fear and have anger, and … we need to have some understanding of that and some empathy, and a little bit of patience,” Isom said. “Those are the things officers are learning and I believe they are going to demonstrate that this time.”
Police asked the coalition to “renounce harassment of police officers and the release of personal information” for police officers.
Brown’s parents, who expect advance notice of the grand jury’s decision, also called for calm.
“They wanted me to make it crystal clear. They do not advocate any violence, any looting, any rioting. They are totally against that,” the family’s attorney Anthony Gray said.
Gray and representatives from Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, speaking at a press conference Friday at a local church, said 50 volunteers from the Disciples of Justice would work to keep the peace at any protests. The Disciples of Justice was created after the shooting to act as a liaison and buffer between protesters and police.
“We are out and we are watching everything that is going on on both sides, the police and the protesters,” said Rev. Carlton Lee, president of the Ferguson chapter of National Action Network. “We are asking for everyone in the community and abroad to remain peaceful.”
The Jennings school district told USA TODAY on Friday that schools in the district were closing Monday and Tuesday out of caution for the grand jury decision, which could come as early as this weekend. Schools were already scheduled to be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Parents will be notified via a phone blast and letters sent home with students Friday. Classes will resume Monday, Dec. 1, KSDK reports.
“With the heightened anxiety and activity, we thought it would be better for students and staff to extend the holiday at this point,” Jennings Superintendent Tiffany Anderson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She said she wanted to give parents as much time as possible to figure out child-care arrangements next week.
The Jennings district includes the eastern edge of Ferguson. There are four school districts for Ferguson, including Hazelwood, Riverview Gardens and Ferguson-Florissant. The majority of Ferguson children attend the Ferguson-Florissant district, which has not yet released any information about school closures.
The Post-Dispatch reports that school district officials from several north St. Louis County districts say law enforcement has requested they close for two days immediately after the announcement to keep buses and excess traffic off streets in the event of unrest.