Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday that law enforcement in the St. Louis area were well prepared for possible demonstrations in the wake of any grand jury announcement related to the shooting death of Michael Brown. The announcement on whether Ferguson officer Darren Wilson will be indicted could come as early as this weekend, though Nixon added that the only time table they currently have is “mid- to late-November.”
“Citizens should be able to express themselves peacefully without being threatened by people expressing violence and disorder,” Nixon said referring to the looting and confrontations that followed the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown. “That ugliness is not representative of Missouri and it cannot be repeated.”
The governor noted that more than 1,000 area law enforcement officers have received more than 5,000 hours of additional training. The area will also continue to use a so-called “unified command” system that combines the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police. The state’s National Guard will also be available to provide support if necessary. In addition, fire and EMS services have been a part of preparations.
“These measures are not being taken because we believe violence will occur but because we have a responsibility to plan for any contingency,” the governor added. “Violence will not be tolerated. Residents and businesses of this region will be protected.”
The governor’s announcement comes after weeks rumor and speculation have swirled in the Ferguson area — with many trying to decipher clues from statements and actions by officials and bits of information leaked to the media.
On Twitter, people have circulated photos of military vehicles including armored trucks and helicopters reportedly arriving in the Ferguson area. Members of the unified command have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in riot gear and weaponry.
“The narrative that started in Ferguson in August is still being written and we in law enforcement have the ability to influence that in a very positive way,” said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson at Tuesday’s press conference. He also reiterated that violence following any type of announcement would not be tolerated.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar also focused on the safety of area residents and businesses. “What keeps me away at night … is human life,” he said. “We were able to get through October without the loss of human life at the hands of law enforcement.”
Members of Brown’s family, as well as their supporters, have expressed concern over the buildup of law enforcement. Ty Pruitt, a cousin of Michael Brown and a family spokesman, told msnbc last week that the priorities of local law enforcement are off base.
“The police are getting ready for war when they should be getting ready for a trial. That to me means they’ve already made their decision,” Pruitt said. “We still feel terrible. Right now we feel about the same way we felt when [Brown] was lying dead in the middle of the street for four and a half hours.”
Even before the press conference local organizers lambasted Nixon and his efforts to cool tensions in Ferguson.
“Until the governor chooses to truly address the systemic issues that the murder of Michael Brown brought to the surface for many Americans, no press release or commission board will truly help this community move forward from this tragedy,” said Ashley Yates, co-creator of Millennial Activists United.
Another organizer, Damon Davis, said “For nearly 100 days, the preponderance of violence has come from the hands of police.”
“We have proven we can peacefully assemble and function at a protest, can the police say the same?” Davis added.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson on Tuesday seemed to reference the ultimately limited ability the police have at this point to mitigate tension. “As law enforcement, we understand there are worries and fears and mere words cannot make them go away,” he said.