Ferguson, Mo. – While a grand jury vote had been expected as early as Saturday in the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, sources told NBC News that the grand jury now is planning to meet on Monday.
Public safety units, including police and fire, have eased back on their alert status, multiple sources told NBC News. And 12 hour police shifts that had been planned for Saturday are now expected to begin Sunday.
President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have urged calm ahead of the grand jury decision on whether to charge police officer Darren Wilson with a crime in the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown. Still, authorities, residents and businesses here are bracing for unrest.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency earlier this week and has already activated the National Guard to help out state and local police after the grand jury decision is announced in case there is violence, as there was in the aftermath of the shooting. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also dispatched a team of agents to Ferguson. Those agents will help in the event that threats are made to federal employees or buildings, or to mitigate situations that could be considered federal crimes.
Local police officials and Ferguson protest groups have also agreed on some “rules of engagement” in an effort to foster peaceful demonstrations. Rules that authorities agreed to include making the “preservation of human life” the No. 1 priority and treating protesters as citizens instead of “enemy combatants.” Other requests were denied, including banning the use of crowd-control equipment like tear gas, rubber bullets and rifles.
On that note, Holder on Friday urged for police restraint in Ferguson and said the Justice Department was giving new guidance to Ferguson authorities on how to make sure the public is safe while still protecting the rights of protesters. “The Justice Department encourages law enforcement officials, in every jurisdiction, to work with the communities they serve to minimize needless confrontation,” he said in a video message.
Meanwhile, some schools in the Ferguson area are closing their doors next week in anticipation of potential violence. Churches in the area have also said they will open and serve as safe spaces for those seeking refuge in the event of unrest. And in Clayton, Mo.—where the grand jury decision will be announced— officials issued an e-mail update saying additional steps were being taken to secure buildings in the city, including a temporary restriction of traffic in the area.
But even as residents hope for calm, many are expecting anger and unrest. At a peace rally Friday evening at Harris Stowe University, some students expressed concerns about violence, especially in the event that Wilson isn’t charged. “Things are going to be terrible,” predicted one young woman. “…I think there are going to be riots.”
And employees at Ferguson businesses also expressed major concerns about violence, with some expecting unrest even worse than that of last summer in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Even the storefront headquarters of the grassroots “I Love Ferguson” movement, along with several neighboring businesses, have been boarded up for the last few days. The movement, started by former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher, has been working to unite residents and put out a positive image of the city.
The store, where you can buy “I love Ferguson” T-shirts, hats, yard signs and even Christmas sweaters, sits right across the street from the Ferguson Police Department, which lately has been the site of increasingly rowdy protests at night.
Sandy Sansevere, who helps run the campaign as a volunteer, said the boards were “just a precaution.”
Last Saturday, several nearby stores had their windows broken by protesters. Sansevere said the movement’s headquarters hadn’t yet suffered damage, but it had been “targeted” by some protesters falsely claiming it was raising money for Wilson. (In fact, Sansevere said the money it raises goes to local businesses hit by looters.)
It’s clear the period of relative calm during the fall is over as a grand jury decision looms. “About a week and a half ago, we didn’t have anything going on. It was a false sense of security,” Sansevere said. “It’s been escalating.”
“I hope it’s not a repeat of what happened in August,” she added. “Who knows how global this is going to go? Because they’re not going to get the answer they want.”
Not all businesses in the area are boarding up their windows, however. That includes the Beauty World store, which caters to a mostly black clientele. “I don’t think boarding up would help,” said Yon Kim, an owner. “It might even makes things worse” by angering people.
Kim added: “We just pray for no major problems – for everybody.”
Demonstrations have been ongoing even in the lead-up to the grand jury decision. Three men were arrested on Friday night in Ferguson after approximately 160 protesters blocked traffic on West Florissant and South Florissant streets, according to the St. Louis County Police Department. Separately, two men who were taken into custody Friday in Missouri on gun charges are now being investigated on suspicion of trying to purchase explosives to detonate during protests in Ferguson.
Police and witnesses have said Brown and Wilson engaged in a physical struggle through the window of the officer’s SUV shortly before the teen’s death on Aug. 9. Law enforcement officials say Brown attempted to take Wilson’s gun when the police officer fired the first shot. A half-dozen eye-witnesses have said publicly that they saw Brown flee from the vehicle as Wilson open fire with the fatal shots landing as the teen stopped, turned to the officer and raised his arms in surrender. But a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told NBC News’ Pete Williams that Wilson said he feared for his safety when the teen turned and charged back toward him after running from the vehicle.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told msnbc earlier that Wilson would be legally entitled to return to the force if the grand jury does not indict him. But Jackson added that Wilson would be subject to an internal review, the results of which may or may not lead to the officer’s termination. Jackson said he had only spoken to Wilson once since the incident in August, adding that it remained unclear whether Wilson would want to rejoin the police department.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Brown family, told msnbc’s Richard Lui Saturday that the family is exploring “all legal avenues” in the case, including a civil lawsuit against the officer. “Make no mistake about it, they sincerely want the killer of their child held accountable. But they are going look for positive solutions to change things so this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s child.”