“Violence will not be tolerated,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D-Mo.) said during a press conference today to discuss preparations being made in advance of a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case.
Brown, a young black man, was shot to death by white Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in August. Protests that turned into riots continued for days after the shooting.
Nixon was like a daredevil speaking from on top of a powder keg while his audience threw lit matches on stage.
All has not been quiet in Ferguson since the riots of August, when 155 people were arrested. But there has been a greater degree of civility that had been lacking between police and demonstrators.
Although highly organized protesters are still in Ferguson demanding the arrest of Officer Wilson, Ferguson police have not been arresting peaceful demonstrators.
Now, though, there is fear running through Missouri that a grand jury decision in the case will spark new waves of violence unlike anything seen to date.
Gun sales have reportedly spiked as people who live in Ferguson wait in fear of the unknown, according to one local gun shop owner.
“We are getting prepared for war,” Ronardo Ward, a Ferguson resident, told CBS News. “And that is just crazy.”
Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., testified before the United Nations Committee Against Torture today.
They testified behind closed doors. But McSpadden told CNN, “We need the world to know what’s going on in Ferguson and we need justice.”
”We need answers and we need action. And we have to bring it to the UN so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small-town Ferguson,” she added.
Gov. Nixon, joining state and local law enforcement officials at the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop C headquarters in Weldon Spring, Mo., said more than 1,000 police officers had received additional training before the grand jury investigating the shooting releases its decision.
He said officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police will operate as a unified command to protect the public.
Among the actions taken by unified command agencies to date: More than 1,000 law enforcement officers have received a total of more than 5,000 hours of additional training. Law enforcement planning efforts have included coordination with fire and EMS services, and the Department of Public Safety has distributed additional communications equipment to ensure seamless communication between agencies.
Nixon also promised to protect the civil rights of those who might protest the grand jury’s decision.
Over the past three months, Nixon has advanced a series of initiatives that his administration said are designed to strengthen communities and address the underlying issues exposed by events in Ferguson.
Missouri’s new Office of Community Engagement, led by former state Senator Maida Coleman, has been gathering input and developing strategies to address the challenges facing low-income and minority communities.
A summer jobs program will connect 2,000 young people from low-income families in the St. Louis region with high-impact summer employment next year.
The governor is assembling the Ferguson Commission, which will be tasked with studying root problems and making actionable recommendations for addressing them.
With support from the state of Missouri, a coalition of public and private organizations and businesses provided $1 million in zero-interest loans to businesses affected by the civil unrest.
“As governor, the most important part of my job is keeping the people of Missouri safe,” Nixon said. “That is why we have been working around the clock to prepare to keep residents and businesses of the St. Louis region safe – regardless of the outcome of the parallel local and federal investigations.”
He also said the Missouri National Guard will be on duty, as it has been since rioting broke out in Ferguson following the Brown shooting.
“This coordinated effort will be guided by the core principles of keeping the public safe, while allowing people to speak,” Nixon said.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson spoke at the press conference and said his department is also involved in the preparations for the aftermath of the Brown grand jury decision, which is expected this month.
“The St. Louis community should be confident that we in law enforcement are determined to protect and serve all citizens, including demonstrators,” said Dotson. “While everyone is welcome to have their voices heard, putting the lives of other citizens or police officers at risk will not be tolerated.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar agreed that the civil rights of protesters had to be respected. But he also delivered a warning he meant as a guarantee.
“We want the public to know that we are fully committed to preventing lawbreakers from threatening public safety,” said Belmar.
“People have a right to express their views and grievances,” said Nixon. “But they do not have a right to put their fellow citizens at risk. As I’ve said before, violence will not be tolerated.”