Local officials are bracing for unrest following the impending announcement of a grand jury's decision on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. Last night, for the fourth night in a row, police made arrests in front of the Ferguson police station. On Friday, police arrested protesters for blocking traffic, and these arrests came on the heels of five protester arrests reported Wednesday and three more reported on Thursday.
Friday, city and county leaders held a press conference to discuss their plans for handling unrest resulting from the grand jury decision. This seemed to lend credibility to the theory that a decision will be announced shortly, as did announcements today from local school districts that classes have been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday next week.
Speculation has run rampant in recent days and weeks, with the well-established and "very credible" sources of local reporters consistently contradicting each other. On Friday, various reports claimed with near certainty that a decision would be released that afternoon (needless to say, it was not). The best guesses of the more credible reporters and sources seem to indicate a decision is likely in the next seventy-two hours, but it's worth noting that some of those same folks were sure a decision would be announced on November 16.
One thing is certain—everybody is preparing. Protesters have been preparing for months, and have held a number of training sessions. Law enforcement has been training too, with the governor of Missouri reporting that over 1,000 officers each received five hours of additional training since Michael Brown's death. Governor Nixon also preemptively activated the National Guard this past Monday, a decision criticized by some elected officials as illegal and counterproductive.
Saturday in Clayton, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center where grand juries convene in Saint Louis County, workers erected barricades around nearly an entire city block. The roads in front of the Justice Center have been closed, and workers even removed all the trash bins from nearby streets.
I heard a consistent refrain of "hope for the best; prepare for the worst" from law enforcement I spoke with today. Many expressed they'd never dealt with anything like the Ferguson unrest, and nearly all I interacted with seemed quite tense.
Protesters were more relaxed. In fact, many seemed downright exhausted by the 106 days that have passed since Michael Brown was killed. Constant unrest has devastated local businesses, with some reporting a 75 percent decline in sales since August, and protesters have reported symptoms of PTSD. There was a consensus among those I spoke with that their movement was about a lot more than an indictment of Darren Wilson, as well as a consensus among those I spoke with that no indictment was coming.
Eugene Gillis, a pastor at a local black church who has been involved in the civil rights struggle for decades, hopes recent events in Ferguson can further a larger struggle for justice. "Everything that's been done helps." he said. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
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