Hope for justice in Ferguson

Amongst Ebola hysteria and midterm elections, it appears the officer who fatally shot an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., this summer has taken the back burner in terms of relevant news. Within the next couple of days, the grand jury will likely make a decision as to whether or not the shooter of Michael Brown, officer Darren Wilson, will be prosecuted. However, those living in the greater St. Louis, Mo., area are not expecting Wilson to be indicted.

For the past several weeks, the police and protesters have discussed ways and efforts in which they can both peacefully act in the event Wilson is not convicted. The fear is there could be another explosion of major unrest similar to what took place immediately after Brown was shot. Both sides are working together to create “rules of engagement.” Protesters wish to have peaceful demonstrations without the threat of police interference, while police officers are pledging to respect the demonstrators unless violence ensues.

There is a deep concern shared by many that Wilson may not be held legally accountable in the Aug. 9 shooting.

In the past few weeks, a couple of young protest leaders, who wished to remain anonymous in order to talk freely of their demonstration plans, decided to hold a national conference call in order to discuss their future plans. Those participating in the organization claimed nearly hundreds participated, drawing activists in from all over the world.

Activists are planning to organize many more “civil disobedience” protests, similar to the ones displayed in early October known as “the weekend of resistance.” During the weekend of resistance (Oct. 10 to 13), more than 1,000 people surged through downtown St. Louis to the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch demanding justice for Brown, along with an assortment of other actions.

There are other organizations such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition, which is made up of more than 50 different groups. Their motives are to create peaceful protests, but they are not intimidated to challenge police officers, insisting they practice “demilitarized” police response instead of tear gas and other police brutality tactics.

In the event Wilson is not indicted, organizers of Don’t Shoot are providing multiple supports in order to develop a peaceful response. According to Don’t Shoot Co-chair Michael T. McPhearson, the police must allow adequate space between the protestors and themselves in order for a peaceful outcome.

During the past three weeks, police and protesters have discussed agendas almost daily in preparation for the grand jury decision. The police are making sure to approach many coalition groups as well due to the different schedules.

However, the St. Louis County Police Department is far from unprepared in the event that problems surface.

The police department has spent $37,741 on more riot gear and “protective” resources such as pepper balls (a projectile weapon comprised of a powdered chemical that irritates the eyes and nose), smoke grenades, sock rounds (a baton fired as a shotgun shell used for less harmful tactics against suspects) and 2,000 sets of plastic handcuffs (a form of physical restraint for the hands using plastic straps that function as handcuffs but are cheaper and easier to carry).

In addition to the $37,741 spent on defensive items, the police department also allotted $50,000 to be set aside in order to restore vehicles that could be damaged during the protests as well as training for 1,300 officers.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief, Sam Dotson, requires that the officers attend a four-hour training concerning information on civil disturbance training. Furthermore, he is making it mandatory to have a full comprehension of the 1st, 4th and 14th amendments as well as the rights of the press.

Due to police confrontations during peaceful protests in August, it gained national attention and the worry of higher political powers in Washington, D.C. During protests, demonstrators were deterred by tear gas, rubber bullets and officers in riot attire. Tanks were brought in as forms of protection, meanwhile other officers assumed sniper positions.

Because of disturbances during peaceful demonstrations, organizers of many peace coalitions demand a “de-militarized” reaction. They are also requesting the public receive an advance notice of the grand jury’s decision. Some people have even taken it upon themselves to write to McCulloch asking that any word of a decision be announced 5 p.m. on a weekday or on a Sunday.

According to McCulloch, he will keep their requests in mind, however, there will be no announcement until mid-November.

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