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4 Things To Know Ahead Of The Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Protestors march along Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo. Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The group marched along the closed street, rallying in front of the town's police headquarters to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officers on Saturday night. (Sid Hastings/AP)closemore
Protestors march along Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo. Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The group marched along the closed street, rallying in front of the town's police headquarters to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officers on Saturday night. (Sid Hastings/AP)

It has been more than three months since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. Tensions in the St. Louis-area city have been high since then, with demonstrators calling for a trial and local law enforcement criticized for their response to the protests. Now a grand jury is set to announce whether there will be charges in the case.

Here are the latest developments:

State Of Emergency Declared

The grand jury decision could come as early as Friday when they meet for a session with St. Louis County prosecutors, CNN reports.

On Monday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the decision. The move cleared the way for the National Guard to be activated to deal with any potential unrest after the decision.

Demonstrations have been ongoing in Ferguson since the Aug. 9 shooting. Those protests have been largely peaceful, though there were incidents of looting. Many believe law enforcement's strong response to protesters, which has drawn scrutiny, contributed to the tensions.

Nixon said he issued the executive order because of the "possibility of expanded unrest." His order calls on all agencies "to protect civil rights and ensure public safety in the City of Ferguson and the St. Louis region."

This move by the governor has not sat well with some. Pamela Lightsey, the associate dean at Boston University's School of Theology, met with community members in Ferguson last week and said the conjecture about what might happen is not good for people there.

"It is a continuation of excessive police force and I regret that the governor has called for a state of emergency," Lightsey said. "It's difficult for me to hear about a state of emergency based upon speculation that there will be some violence as opposed to looking at and really addressing systemic racism throughout the year."

Lightsey said she's been to Ferguson three times and plans to return after the grand jury decision.

The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain is currently in Ferguson and said the preparations were akin to war preparations.

"They’ve armed themselves enough to wage war on a small country, so they are preparing for war and we are preparing for justice," Sekou said.

The FBI also issued its own warning Monday. The agency distributed a bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the country saying the grand jury decision "will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure."

With the heightened sense of concern, gun sales have soared in Ferguson and some protesters have been making shields.

Cities Across U.S. Preparing For Grand Jury Decision

Outside of Feguson, police departments in various cities are also bracing for demonstrations after the grand jury decision.

In Boston, the police department has been meeting almost daily with community leaders and activists, according to Lt. Michael McCarthy. He said those meetings will continue, but he could not comment on any specific plans the department has related to the Ferguson case.

"We always maintain communications with our partners in the community," McCarthy said in a phone interview. "That’s one of the things we do best in Boston. We haven’t changed our strategy as a result of Ferguson. If anything it strengthened our commitment to maintain those relationships that we have with our partners in the community and that will certainly continue."

McCarthy said the Boston Police Department expects some groups to "come out and express themselves" after the grand jury decision, but does not anticipate there will be any problems.

On Thursday, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans posted a message asking local college students to protest peacefully during any demonstrations that may occur after the grand jury decision.

His statement in part read:

Today, I am writing to ask for your help. The entire country is anxiously awaiting the grand jury decision in Ferguson over whether or not charges will be brought against a police officer. Demonstrations are likely across the country.

I ask that if public demonstrations occur as a result of the decision they are done with respect to our neighbors and businesses, responsibly and peacefully... Pending the imminent grand jury decision, if you choose to demonstrate please do so in a way that would make your school, your family, and your city proud.

Ferguson Protesters Mapping Out Plans

In Ferguson, protesters have been gathering to decide what to do after the grand jury decision. Organizers are drawing up "rules of engagement" for dealing with the police and establishing "safe spaces," according to The New York Times.

Sekou, who has been arrested twice in Ferguson and has made frequent trips over the last few months, said regardless of the grand jury decision there would be demonstrations.

"We will continue to be in the street and raise the fundamental question about justice for Mike Brown, but it’s also not about Mike Brown, it’s about the Mike Browns of America," Sekou said.

Lightsey attended a training session in Ferguson last week with clergy, activists and community members and said they are focused on continuing peaceful protests.

"They have been having meetings about possible continued excessive police force and how they might respond to excessive police force if it happens after the grand jury decision," Lightsey said. "The conversations that are taking place, the preparation that is taking place in the protest camp are all in the theme of non-violent response."

Commission Established To Examine Ferguson

Issues of police force and strained community relations are now the focus of a newly-created commission in Ferguson. The 16-member Ferguson Commission was created to study the underlying social and economic issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown. Gov. Nixon announced the members of the commission Tuesday. They have been asked to issue a report by Sept. 15, 2015 with policy recommendations on law enforcement relations, race relations, the municipal government and court system, and disparities in everything from education to heath care.

"Their most important work will not be what is written on sheets of paper or on a website," Nixon said in a statement. "Their most important work will be the changes we see in our institutions and our work places, in our communities and in our interactions with one another. Change of this magnitude is hard; but maintaining the status quo is simply not acceptable."

Lightsey said she is hopeful the commission can come up with solutions to address the long-standing problems in Ferguson.

Related:

Zeninjor Enwemeka Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter at WBUR, covering all things relevant to people in Greater Boston.

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