Ferguson, Missouri teeters on edge as the grand jury readies their announcement tonight on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9th. The city has caught the world’s attention as the outcry against police brutality has finally caught the attention of the press. Some of the protests have led to violence and rioting, causing businesses to be burned and an increase of local and federal officials’ presence on the streets. The long-awaited decision from the jury has been creating confusion as to when it would arrive, as some sources announced the decision would be made last week, but as of today, the jury has reached a decision that will be announced tonight at 8PM CT.
With the city on edge, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, has expressed the need for cooperation between law enforcement officials and the public in order to avoid “needless confrontation” in a video address released by the Justice Department. Many have made preparations for the announcement, with businesses boarding up their windows in fear of protests similar to those during the summer. The nearby Jennings School District has canceled classes for students on Monday and Tuesday in fear of unrest in neighboring Ferguson. The students will also be off the rest of the week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
Protesters in the area have also been preparing for the news about Wilson’s fate. Many have resumed protesting outside of the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant Road, chanting: “What do we want? Darren Wilson! How do we want him? Dead!” Many arrests have been made the past few days outside the police station, as officers in riot gear have tried to contain the situation, only aggravating the protesters. Residents have begun to ready themselves as the jury’s decision nears. Gun sales have increased among first time buyers in the St. Louis suburban areas. Metro Shooting Supplies announced that their sales have spiked two or three times their average, selling up to 30 to 50 firearms per day. Gun sales also increased in August as protests and backlash against Brown’s death turned violent.
Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon, activated the National Guard and issued a state of emergency prior to the release of the decision. Federal officials have also taken measures to ensure order is kept after the jury’s announcement. The FBI has already sent 100 agents to the St. Louis area and planning to increase that number in the coming days. They have set up an intelligence center to be in constant contact with the Missouri and St. Louis county Emergency Operations centers.
Navy veteran and hotel staff member, Mark Paffrath, made headlines last week when he tweeted a video and images of dozens of Department of Homeland Security vehicles parked in the garage of the Drury Plaza Hotel near Ferguson. He added the hashtags #NoJusticeNoPeace and #Ferguson to his post, in what he thought was increased federal presence before the grand jury’s final settlement. In an interview with RT, Paffrath spoke about how he was called into his general manager’s office and told to take down the post. Days later, he was fired all together. “I get called back in the office and the head of security for Drury was there and he told me I would no longer be employed by the hotel due to the fact that I posted a picture and a video on social media,” he said. Paffrath was called a terrorist by his former employer for his actions. He stated that he would be taking legal action against the hotel company for their decision to terminate him.
As the presence of federal officials grow in the city of Ferguson, many politically and racially motivated activist groups have amassed themselves in the St. Louis area in the wake of the grand jury’s final deliberations. The Ku Klux Klan has been posting fliers around Ferguson, threatening “lethal force” to those who join in on promoting violence against police and the greater community. A member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Lou Downey, stated that if Wilson walks, the country would need to be brought to a halt. “That means no business as usual. It means blocking streets and walking out of schools. It means we refuse to accept this,” said Downey.
The new Black Panther Party has also made headlines during the new round of protests, with alleged bomb plots and trying to acquire firearms. Olajuwon Ali and Brandon Muhammad were both arrested last Wednesday for giving false statements while trying to acquire .45 ACP pistols at a Cabela’s in Hazelwood, just outside of Ferguson according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. NBC News also reported that the two party members were suspected of being involved in a pipe bomb plot in the case that the jury decided not to indict Officer Wilson.
The increase of authority’s presence has backfired in their hopes to dwindle the tensions with the public as the grand jury’s decision draws close. Gov. Nixon has appointed 16 members to the Ferguson Commission to bring recommendations for change by September 2015, as activists call for major ramifications in police conduct. Authorities have set up barricades around government buildings over the weekend, which to some, is a sign of an imminent decision and preparations against mass protests. As federal and local authorities, residents and protesters brace themselves for the news, many hope to avoid a repeat of this terrible tragedy.
By Abdirahman R. Mohamed
Photo courtesy of Stephen Melkisethian – Flickr License