Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency in Ferguson ahead of a grand jury’s decision whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown. CNN reports that Nixon cited the possibility of growing unrest, and that while people are allowed to protest peacefully, someone must be there to protect homes and businesses from violence.
This will bring Missouri National Guard troops to Ferguson, but CNN says that their role will be second to that of local and county police. Ferguson has been a major civil and human rights focus since Officer Wilson shot Brown to death on August 9. People protested because of the way the police department responded to the shooting; they claimed that Officer Wilson was well within his rights to shoot Brown. There are many questions about the 90-second incident that remain unanswered, including whether Brown was ever any kind of a threat to Wilson.
Part of Nixon’s statement on the issue said, according to Reuters:
“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.”
NBC News reports that St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay believes that people should be allowed to protest peacefully. His concern is like that of Nixon’s; that the protests will turn violent, people will be harmed needlessly, and businesses and homes will be vandalized and destroyed.
Many of Michael Brown’s supporters believe that the grand jury will not indict Officer Wilson. This could be at least partly due to the fact that some leaks from the Justice Department indicate that there isn’t enough evidence to indict, which several media outlets reported on at the end of October. If the grand jury’s decision comes down to that, Ferguson could, once again, find itself in the national spotlight as people protest the decision.
Nixon’s activating the National Guard ahead of the grand jury’s decision means that he will have better oversight of what happens with protests. In August, the protests often turned ugly in part because the Ferguson police department’s response was considered over the top. They arrested people who weren’t breaking the law, they brought out their riot gear and armored vehicles, and generally tried to scare and intimidate protesters into going home instead of choosing to stand back, and only to intervene in cases of violence.
The grand jury’s decision is expected by the end of the month, but they could decide any day now. There is no specific date by which they will render their decision.