FERGUSON, MO – It’s coming. Any day now…
The St. Louis County grand jury charged with deciding whether Officer Darren Wilson should stand trial in the shooting of Michael Brown technically has until January to make its decision, but the prosecutor’s office has said a decision could come in mid-November.
The ruling will mark the climax in a story that turned Ferguson, Missouri, into a flashpoint of racial tension. Peaceful protests, interspersed with violence and looting at times, became the storyline in the months following the August 9 shooting.
That is predicted to be the case again when the grand jury’s decision is announced.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Monday as a precaution in the event of unrest or violence.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told local media this month that he expected demonstrations across the region and warned authorities to “prepare for the worst.”
Area school superintendents have written a letter to city officials and authorities requesting that they announce the grand jury’s decision on an evening or weeknight so it doesn’t affect about 20,000 students traveling back and forth to their schools.
A group of community members calling themselves the Don’t Shoot Coalition has asked for 48 hours notice before the ruling is made public. It also released 19 “Rules of Engagement” that touch on major points of contention between protesters and police.
The group wants assurances that neither police nor the government will interfere with the flow of information, as well as a guarantee that police won’t use rubber bullets, armored vehicles, rifles or tear gas. The group has also requested that officers wear attire “minimally required for their safety” and that “specialized riot gear be avoided except as a last resort.”
Brown’s shooting has also touched a national nerve, as protests decrying racism and police brutality have taken place around the country since Brown’s shooting death on August 9.
The Ferguson National Response Network expects that reaction to the grand jury ruling will not be limited to the St. Louis area. It has set up a Tumblr account advertising about 70 “planned responses” to the ruling. They will take place from West Palm Beach, Florida, to New York to Chicago to Los Angeles.
Though Brown’s supporters have exhibited the most anger, Wilson’s supporters have demonstrated on occasion as well. They point to witness testimony and leaked grand jury documents that suggest Brown may have attacked Wilson, struggled for his gun and perhaps even charged the officer after the tussle over the weapon.
Protesters are aware of that version of events, but it doesn’t stem their anger.
Many told CNN in August that other witnesses allege Wilson shot Brown at least six times as he stood about 30 feet from Wilson’s police cruiser. The fatal shots were fired as Brown had his hands up in surrender, they believe.
Perhaps stoking the most anger is that all six shots hit Brown above the waist, leading community members to believe Wilson never had any intention of arresting the 18-year-old.
By Eliott C. McLaughlin