David A. Lieb and Jim Salter, Yahoo! News, October 24, 2014
Missouri police have been brushing up on constitutional rights and stocking up on riot gear to prepare for a grand jury’s decision about whether to charge a white police officer who fatally shot a black 18-year-old in suburban St. Louis.
The preparations are aimed at avoiding a renewed outbreak of violence during the potentially large demonstrations that could follow an announcement of whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will face a criminal trial for the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown.
Many protesters want Wilson indicted for murder. Grand jury proceedings are secret, but legal analysts say recently leaked information about Wilson’s testimony to investigators may be an attempt to prepare the public for the possibility that he might not be charged.
The decision could be made public within the next month.
In the meantime, law officers have adjusted their tactics to interact more peacefully with protesters while also honing their procedures for quick, widespread arrests. They plan to have a large contingent of officers at the ready, but have been meeting with clergy, community leaders and students in hopes of building relationships that could ease tensions on the streets.
Law enforcement officers expect to receive at least a day’s notice before a grand jury announcement. That should provide time for them to execute security plans but may also allow demonstrators to prepare.
Amnesty International on Thursday released a report documenting what it described as human rights abuses by police during the protests following Brown’s death. The report accuses police of violating citizens’ rights by intimidating protesters using riot gear, aiming high-powered weapons at people, using tear gas, firing rubber bullets and flash-bangs, and setting curfews.
After the initial clashes with protesters, the state Highway Patrol purchased more shields and equipment for its officers. St. Louis city police recently spent $325,000 upgrading helmets, sticks and other “civil disobedience equipment,” said Police Chief Sam Dotson.
More than 350 St. Louis officers now have been trained in civil disobedience tactics. St. Louis County police and state troopers also have undergone training, focused largely on ensuring they understand protesters’ constitutional rights.