Guard on standby to quell any Ferguson unrest after grand jury decision
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said he would activate the National Guard to respond to any unrest that erupts after the grand jury delivers its decision in the case of a white Ferguson police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man.
“This is America. People have the right to express views and grievances, but they do not have the right to put fellow citizens and property at risk,” Nixon said Tuesday. “Violence will not be tolerated.”
The grand jury convened Aug. 20 to decide whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson, 28, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9. Court officials expect the grand jury to announce its decision this month.
Witnesses and police gave conflicting accounts of Brown’s death. Police say Brown struggled with Wilson inside his police car, then reached for Wilson’s weapon. Brown’s family and some witnesses say Wilson killed Brown as he raised his hands in surrender.
Nixon said he wants to avoid the rioting and violence that seized the St. Louis suburb after the shooting Aug. 9.
“That ugliness was not representative of Missouri, and it cannot be repeated,” he said.
Police underwent 5,000 hours of training to handle protests, but Nixon declined to give details about how they would respond.
“Our dual pillars here are safety and speech,” Nixon said. “The vast majority of people who want to speak want to do so in a peaceful fashion.”
Community activists say whatever plans the state makes to keep residents safe after the grand jury decision will be only a short-term fix for what ails Ferguson and other communities where minority residents have strained relations with police.
“Until the governor chooses to truly address the systemic issues that the murder of Michael Brown brought to the surface for many Americans, no press release or commission board will truly help this community move forward from this tragedy,” Ashley Yates, co-creator of Millennial Activists United, said.
Community organizer Damon Davis blames police for stoking the violence.
“For nearly 100 days, the preponderance of violence has come from the hands of police,” he said. “We have proven we can peacefully assemble and function at a protest. Can the police say the same?”
As the city awaits the grand jury’s decision, protesters, residents and businesses brace for more unrest.
Thomas Mitchell, owner of Comfort Zone Security, Protection and Investigations, says demand for his security guards has outstripped his resources.
St. Louis County Det. Michael Kaufman, who coordinates the department’s private security training and licensing, has compressed training for security guards, who may be armed, into a week instead of the more typical two-week training so more are available before the decision.
Since October, Kaufman said, he has fielded about 10 calls a day from different private security companies asking whether the state will allow out-of-state security guards to augment their staffs in Missouri. Licensing rules prohibit that, he said.
“They are having a demand that needs to be filled,” Kaufman said.