The Don’t Shoot Coalition in St. Louis, Missouri, on Wednesday made preparations ahead of the grand jury’s eventual decision in the police shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.
Protests and violence broke out for weeks in the St. Louis suburb after veteran officer Darren Wilson fatally shot the 18-year-old almost three months ago on Aug. 9. A heavy and armored police presence was met with demonstrators’ escalated violence and anger toward law enforcement and their handling of the situation. Activists in the community continue to call for an indictment in the case.
Members of the Don’t Shoot Coalition, which includes nearly 50 activist and grassroots organizations formed in the wake of Brown’s death, at a news conference on Wednesday said they plan to promote a peaceful response when jurors reach their decision. But, they added, their intentions won’t make a difference unless authorities provide protesters with adequate space to assemble.
“If Officer Wilson is not indicted, we will do our part to try to deescalate violence without deescalating action,” said Michael McPhearson, co-chair of the coalition and executive director of Veterans for Peace.
Don’t Shoot members are negotiating three elements to what members deem a “safe police response”: Agreeing on rules of engagement for all agencies to ensure the safety of protesters, providing advanced public notice of the grand jury’s decision, and respecting established sanctuary spaces as off-limits. They are also calling on authorities to end what members call racial profiling across the St. Louis region and to seek accountability for police practices and policies, said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for the Advancement Project.
The plans came as authorities in the City of St. Louis officially adopted a program to boost minority recruiting efforts in the law enforcement and public safety departments. The new initiative won’t directly affect the other 89 municipalities in St. Louis County, including Ferguson, but officials hope towns will adopt a similar plan to create more diverse police forces and public safety departments.