Police officers in Ferguson have arrested several protesters overnight ahead of the grand jury decision to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown. Protesters were attempting to block a street during a demonstration that drew dozens of people outside of the city police station in sub-freezing temperatures.
Demonstrators were met by officers in riot gear and were advised to disperse. A few demonstrators were chanting to indict the officer. The arrests were the first in roughly a week indicating the rise in racial tensions ahead of the trial ruling.
In anticipation of the public reaction to the upcoming grand jury decision to charge Wilson with the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown, Governor of Missouri Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency on Monday. He also activated the National Guard to provide back up to state and local law enforcement, a move some activists have criticized as being heavy-handed. Over the past week, several protests have been seen, all of which which have been peaceful.
The National Action Network, a group founded by longtime New York civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, said that demonstrations could be expected to occur regardless of the decision by the grand jury. It is anticipated that protesters will be calling for federal charges against Wilson if local charges are not filed. Activists around the country are planning to stage their own rallies at federal courthouses from New York to Los Angeles. Law enforcement agencies around the country have been warned by the FBI that the decision may lead to threats and even attacks on police officers and federal agents by some extremist protesters.
Caught in the middle would be peaceful protesters, and water treatment plants or electrical facilities could also become targets. Hacktivist group, Anonymous, has already launched a cyber-attack against the KKK for threatening to disturb the peace. Within hours of the FBI releasing their bulletin, police departments across the country were issuing internal bulletins urging officers to review procedures and protocols for responding to mass demonstrations and protesters ahead of the grand jury decision in Ferguson, raising the possibility of more arrests.
Immediately after Brown’s death on Aug. 9, protests began. People chanted and marched along West Florissant Avenue, near the site of the shooting. At times, the protests turned violent with stores being looted and according to local law enforcement demonstrators attempted to set fires and threw gasoline bombs.
Though the confrontations have quieted down, the demonstrations and rallies have continued nearly nightly. An estimated 50 organizations, including Montague Simmons’ Organization for Black Struggle, have joined forces in a “Don’t Shoot Coalition” aimed at preparing for the grand jury decision.
Negotiations are currently underway proposing a “rules of engagement” for when the grand jury decision comes down. Law enforcement has accepted some of the terms of the agreement while other terms have been rejected. Some of the proposed terms include tolerance for more minor law breaking such as thrown water bottles and requesting 48 hour notice for protesters prior to the grand jury decision coming in.
“It must be changing how police and citizens relate to one another,” said Michael T. McPhearson, co-chairman of the Don’t Shoot Coalition. Some of the goals of the coalition include police accountability and transparency. Whether an indictment is handed down or not, McPhearson states that there is more work to be done.
There are conflicting accounts as to what occurred when Wilson shot Brown. Some witness accounts state that Brown had his hands up in surrender-like fashion, while other accounts describe a violent confrontation between the two. In the end, arrests of protesters have begun by Ferguson police ahead of the decision to indict by the grand jury.
By Stevenson Benoit