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Matthew DeLuca

Missouri governor declares state of emergency for 'Ferguson' verdict

Published November 17, 2014

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On Monday, November 17, Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon, declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the grand jury’s decision regarding whether criminal charges will be filed against police officer Darren Wilson that shot 18 year-old, unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri in August earlier this year.

Governor Nixon signed an executive order Monday morning activating the Missouri National Guard for possible unrest that could occur as a result of the pending grand jury decision. In a press release issued by the Governor’s Office, the governor states:

"As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury’s decision… These additional resources will support law enforcement’s efforts to maintain peace and protect those exercising their right to free speech. The National Guard is well-suited to provide security at command posts, fire stations and other locations as well as perform other functions that will free up law enforcement officers to remain focused on community policing and protecting constitutional rights."

The incident, which occurred on August 9th, initially sparked weeks of protests, which at times became violent. As the New York Times reports, immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, protesters amassed along West Florissant Avenue, near the site of the shooting. The protests became violent as stores were looted. According to the police, the demonstrators threw gasoline bombs and tried to set fires and the police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. The protesters claimed the protests were peaceful and that police overreacted to small groups within the protests that were engaged in disruptive activity.

The proceedings of this grand jury have been particularly unique because as civil rights attorney Steve Ryals told ABC News that State prosecutor Robert McCulloch "has called every witness and present every piece of evidence that exists." Ryals believes McCulloch has been extremely thorough in order to eliminate any suspicion of bias on the part of the State prosecutor. The deeper issues of racial profiling and policing in Missouri that have been raised by shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager and subsequent unrest, have put these proceedings in the spotlight, as both the authorities and protesters stand poised to respond to the verdict.

According to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, his officers are prepared to handle the response to the verdict and have "undergone thousands of hours of additional training and reached out to build strong relationships across the community." Protesters are also preparing for the verdict. According to the New York Times, organizers have begun informing protesters how to deal with police, including establishing safe-zones where protesters can get shelter from the cold or stay clear of police.

According to ABC News, The central conflicts of the case is whether Brown had his hands up when he was shot as some bystanders claim or if Brown was advancing in a manner that made Officer Wilson fear for his life as the officer and police department claim.

According to Police, the conflict began when Brown assaulted Wilson after he stopped him and a friend to tell them to stop walking in the street and blocking traffic. The police claim there was a struggle over Office Wilson gun while he was still sitting in the car and at least one shot was fired in the patrol car. The officer then exited the patrol car as Brown began to run off. Dorian Johnson who was with Brown at the time claims Brown did not attempt to grab the officer’s gun at any point.

The grand jury will consider the accounts of the officer and bystanders in addition to the other forensic and physical evidence of the case. Although grand jury witness lists are sealed it is believed that Brown family’s forensics expert, former New York City Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Baden. It is also believed that the grand jury will hear testimony from the County Medical Examiner, whose report, obtained by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, claims that Brown suffered a close range gunshot to the hand, which could support Wilson’s narrative that Brown tried to grab his gun.

Locals have been preparing for the possibility that the protests could become violent. As CNN reports local gun stores have seen a noticeable increase in gun sales. Some shop owners have already begun boarding up their stores to protect their windows and merchandise in case the crowd becomes unruly and begins looting stores.

Given the unrest that occurred after the shooting, Governor Nixon’s executive order is intended to assuage concerns about the reaction to the grand jury’s verdict. Governor Nixon reached out to both the protesters and those concerned about the protests saying. "All people in the St. Louis region deserve to feel safe in their communities and to make their voices heard without fear of violence or intimidation… Public safety demands that we are fully prepared for any contingency, regardless of what the St. Louis County grand jury or the U.S. Department of Justice decides."

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Matt DeLuca
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