FERGUSON, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency in Missouri on Monday afternoon, calling up the state National Guard to assist in supporting local law enforcement in case of potential unrest once the St. Louis County grand jury reaches a decision in the police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr.
The Democratic governor said in a press conference last week that the guard would be brought in as needed to help maintain safety if mass protests break out as a result of the grand jury’s decision, which is expected any day now.
On Monday, Nixon took the official steps of signing an executive order, preemptively declaring a state of emergency to activate the guard.
“As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury’s decision,” Nixon said in a statement. “These additional resources will support law enforcement’s efforts to maintain peace and protect those exercising their right to free speech.”
Nixon said the guard is prepared and well-suited to help secure command posts, fire stations and other public buildings, as well as free up law enforcement officers to “remain focused on community policing and protecting constitutional rights.”
The NAACP slammed Nixon’s state of emergency in a statement Monday night, calling the declaration “premature in its application and presumptuous to the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators who have embraced their Constitutional right to protest.”
“Governor Nixon’s decision to declare a state of emergency without evidence of violence or danger only threatens to stir up tensions and denigrate the peaceful efforts of countless non-violent activists,” NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said in the statement.
The governor’s order re-establishes the unified command – the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police Department and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – which will work together to protect people and property while patrolling possible protests.
“All people in the St. Louis region deserve to feel safe in their communities and to make their voices heard without fear of violence or intimidation,” Nixon said. “Public safety demands that we are fully prepared for any contingency, regardless of what the St. Louis County grand jury or the U.S. Department of Justice decides.”
During a press conference shortly after Nixon’s announcement, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the National Guard will also be deployed in a support capacity in the city of St. Louis, where protesters have also held demonstrations over Brown’s killing and the killing of another young black man by a St. Louis police officer.
“This would be from our standpoint a secondary role,” Slay told reporters at the news conference on Monday afternoon. “We would not have the guard on the front lines interacting with, dealing with, confronting protesters.”
For several weeks, law enforcement, protesters and community leaders have been bracing for the grand jury’s decision, which the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office said is expected in mid-November. Many, including supporters of Brown, fear a return to the violent, early days following Brown’s shooting death on Aug. 9 at the hands of white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, when protesters and police clashed violently.
Officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9 after what police say was a struggle over Wilson’s weapon. A half-dozen witnesses to the shooting have said that Wilson fired on Brown as the teen attempted to flee the officer, delivering the fatal gunshots as Brown turned to surrender with his hands up. But a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity told NBC News’ Pete Williams that Wilson told police the teen turned and charged back toward him after running from the vehicle, at which point Wilson feared for his life.Local law enforcement has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on riot gear and weaponry in preparation for what many expect will be a decision by the grand jury to not indict Officer Wilson.
Protesters and activists groups have ramped up training in non-violent civil disobedience and created designated safe spaces where protesters and ordinary citizens can take refuge in case of unrest. Organizes say there will be food, water, medical supplies and medics on hand at the safe spaces.
Temperatures have dipped into the teens here in Ferguson, where occasional snowfall has blanketed streets that just 100 days ago, following Brown’s Aug. 9 killing, were red-hot with anger and rebellion.
Last week, Nixon held a press conference in which he said violence would not be tolerated and that law enforcement would protect the rights of citizens to exercise their freedom of expression but would not tolerate any violence or destruction of property.
“Citizens should be able to express themselves peacefully without being threatened by people expressing violence and disorder,” Nixon said last week. “That ugliness is not representative of Missouri and it cannot be repeated.”
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As the grand jury makes its final deliberations in this case, one fraught with racial overtones, the Department of Justice continues two parallel investigations— one into the killing itself and one into the entire Ferguson Police Department for allegations of systemic racially-biased policing.
Meanwhile, commanders of the unified command here say that state and local agencies on the ground will work in conjunction to keep the peace and maintain public safety.
“Having the support of the National Guard available will enable local officers to continue to respond promptly to calls for service,” said St. Louis Metropolitan police Chief Sam Dotson.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said his department has taken “tremendous strides” in the three months since mass protests broke out and that his officers have undergone thousands of hours of additional training.
As the state and local agencies ready for any number of possibilities in the wake of the grand jury’s decision, a number of local clergy and rights groups have formed coalitions to help prepare for life after the decision.
“Justice is the salve to broken community relationships,” the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou told msnbc. “So if there is justice, if Darren Wilson is indicted, if the police officers are held accountable for their attack on our children – justice will be that healing process … but justice on the part of the state, administered in such a way that the people’s faith will be reassured.”