*Activists in Ferguson, Missouri asked Wednesday for a heads up before prosecutors announce whether Ferguson police Darren Wilson officer will face charges in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, saying they can help prevent widespread violence if they have 48 hours to prepare for protests.
Members of the Don’t Shoot Coalition said at a news conference that they want to “de-escalate violence without de-escalating action” once a grand jury decides whether to indict Wilson, reports the Associated Press.
The coalition represents more than 50 organizations including union workers, clergy, anti-war activists and black empowerment groups. Its members are leaders of the protests that erupted across the region after Brown’s death and have continued in the three months since.
“Everyone around the United States and much of the world is looking at St. Louis,” said Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace. “There’s much anticipation as to what happens next.”
Demonstrators on Wednesday criticized the use of tear gas, riot equipment and armored vehicles by county and local police in the early days of the protests. The heavy initial response led Gov. Jay Nixon to summon the National Guard and temporarily put the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge of Ferguson crowd control.
Ed Magee, a spokesman for St. Louis County Attorney Bob McCulloch, who is overseeing the grand jury investigation, met with McPhearson and attorney Denise Lieberman earlier Wednesday and said the coalition’s request for 48 hours’ notice of a grand jury decision is “being considered.”
The grand jury was expected to hear evidence in Brown’s case until mid-November, but McCulloch said Tuesday night that its work could continue for several more weeks.
Brown, 18, was unarmed when Wilson encountered him walking in the street with a friend. A scuffle ensued and Brown was shot multiple times. Witness accounts of what happened varied, with some saying they saw Brown raise his hands as if in surrender.
“After the verdict, no matter what it is, people are going to pour into the street — either in celebration or in rage,” said Montague Simmons, chairman of the Organization for Black Struggle. “It’s in the best interest of the public, the police and elected officials who control the actions of the police to work together to protect the rights of people to engage in civil disobedience and expression of their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly.”
Organizers have created 19 “rules of engagement” they want police to follow, including calls to treat protesters as “citizens and not enemy combatants.”
County police Chief Jon Belmar earlier this week reiterated that police do not intend to impede peaceful dissent but said he wouldn’t take anything off the table when asked about the use of tear gas and other tactics.
“I have a responsibility…to make sure that everybody walks out of this on the other end,” he said.