The grand jury verdict concerning the shooting death of Michael Brown is expected to arise in the middle of this month. As the fate of Officer Darren Wilson remains a mystery, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announces preparations for law enforcement response in case of unrest and violent protests in Ferguson.
The state highway patrol, city police, and St. Louis County will work together to maintain peace and order in the event of protests. All agencies started with additional training, including enhanced crowd control, for 1,000 officers. This specialized force received training in the use of specialized riot equipment, along with the expectation to work extra shifts.
Just as with the previous protests, Nixon also stated that he would order National Guard intervention if necessary: “The [National] Guard will be available when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement. As governor, the most important part of my job is keeping the people of Missouri safe.”
The response to law enforcement plans appear to be one of cynicism. Fear remains in Ferguson as business owners fortify their stores and offices in preparation for violence and unrest. Ashley Bernaugh, a resident of nearby Florissant, explains, “I think people have been scared into a new reality.”
There is also the opinion that Nixon is addressing this problem the wrong way. Ashley Yates of Millennial Activists United explained that the governor needed to address the systemic issues faced by the Ferguson community and not rely on “reactionary police techniques.”
During the protests arising from the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, criticism focused on the use of heavy riot gear, rubber bullets, and armored vehicles—despite the fact that protests were mostly peaceful. As information about the police response surfaced around the nation, a dialog regarding the militarization of the police force and race relations in America started. The use of the National Guard was also criticized as another promotion of militarization. While the guard’s only function was to protect the police stations, the decision contributed to the elevation of an already tense situation.
Nixon reconsidered his response and put Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson, in charge of keeping the peace in Ferguson. Tensions eased considerably after that decision.
The situation remains a powder keg and the possibility of escalation is not completely dismissed. Forensic evidence appears to suggest Brown reached for Wilson’s gun during their confrontation and that leaves many believing that the grand jury will fail to indict him.
Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, wants to manage the protests rather than suppress them. “We don’t want their voices to be lost,” he explained. “We have to make sure law enforcement causes them to be engaged.”
Protestors plan nonviolent disobedience regardless of whether there is an indictment.
Activists report that police stocked up on rubber bullets, tear gas, and plastic handcuffs. Bernaugh, who watches this all unwind, explains, “They’re prepping by stocking up on weapons of war.”
As the region braces for possible unrest arising from the grand jury decision, Nixon said plans for law enforcement in Ferguson only demonstrate that violence and looting will not be tolerated from the most disruptive protestors. “That ugliness is not representative of Missouri and it cannot be repeated,” he stated.
By: Jocelyn S. Mackie