A number of groups are lining up to help keep the peace in Ferguson, Mo., once the state grand jury makes a decision on whether to file charges in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
That’s important because community groups can be more effective in maintaining calm regardless of how the grand jury might rule. The Don’t Shoot Coalition with about 50 organizations appears to be taking the lead.
Days of unrest occurred in the St. Louis suburb after the unarmed black teenager was shot on Aug. 9 by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.
The grand jury has been investigating the killing to determine whether charges should be filed. The Justice Department also is conducting two civil rights investigations — one in the shooting death and the other covering the Ferguson Police Department.
The majority black city of about 21,000 people is patrolled by a majority white police department.
“If Officer Wilson is not indicted, we will do our part to try to de-escalate violence without de-escalating action,” Don’t Shoot co-chair Michael T. McPhearson, executive director of Veterans For Peace, said in a prepared statement. “We are providing a number of supports to promote a peaceful response, but nothing will make a difference unless the police do their part by giving protesters adequate space. That’s the key to peaceful outcomes.”
That “adequate space” was complicated when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced that a police presence would provide security for protests with warnings against people becoming violent. More than 1,000 officers from several jurisdictions have received special training in advance of the grand jury decision, which is expected in the next few days. The National Guard also will be ready if needed.
The hardened militarization of the police has been part of the problem in the unrest, changing the atmosphere. The smartest thing Nixon did in the aftermath of Brown’s death was to put Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson in charge of security in the city. Johnson is an African American and has earned the respect of the family, the crowds and the community in how he has handled the situation.
Don’t Shoot members are asking authorities to agree to safety concerns, including rules of engagement and a de-militarized response from police. That would mean no armored vehicles, rubber bullets, rifles or tear gas. The group also asks for advance notice of the date the grand jury decision will be made public “so groups can prepare and direct people to productive actions,” the release said. “Finally, police must respect established sanctuary safe spaces as off limits.”
Community organizer Damon Davis said in a separate release: “We have proven we can peacefully assemble and function at a protest. Can the police say the same?”