Justin Sink, The Hill, November 18, 2014
The White House is bracing for potentially violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., as a grand jury decision appears imminent on whether to indict the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in August.
President Obama’s top spokesman on Tuesday urged peace amid warnings that violence could again erupt in the St. Louis suburb if the grand jury decides not to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Obama has been meeting regularly with top officials within his administration–including Attorney General Eric Holder and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett–ahead of the expected announcement. He received a detailed briefing from the Justice Department on Nov. 7.
Later that day, the president also spoke with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) about the situation. Nixon on Monday declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, telling reporters he had “a responsibility to plan for any contingencies that might arise” in the wake of the grand jury’s decision.
The White House on Tuesday sidestepped questions about the move, saying Nixon’s office was “making those decisions.” But Earnest did indicate that Obama and Nixon discussed “steps” that could be “taken to protect the community”–including the possible mobilization of the National Guard–during their phone conversation.
The White House, for its part, says the administration has been working hard to try to address deep-rooted concerns exposed by the Brown killing.
The president himself met with top civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, a day after the midterm elections, to discuss a variety of topics, including Ferguson.
Sharpton told The New York Times that Obama “was concerned about Ferguson staying on course in terms of pursuing what it was that he knew we were advocating.”
“He said he hopes that we’re doing all we can to keep peace,” Sharpton added.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services held a two-day training session with area police forces. Federal officials offered technical assistance and command-level law enforcement leadership training.
And in October, Justice Department leadership spent two days in the city to meet with police to discuss the federal investigation into whether the Ferguson Police Department had violated federal laws on discrimination. The federal officials also pushed Thomas Jackson, the chief of police in Ferguson, on identification requirements for officers serving in the field.
Holder and the Justice Department have resisted putting a specific timeline on that investigation or on the federal inquiry into the handling of Brown’s case. Federal investigators still have not concluded their investigation of the death of Trayvon Martin, another high-profile shooting of an unarmed black teen, which occurred in 2012.
The Justice Department, for its part, said Holder has “devoted significant resources to these investigations in order to ensure they are conducted in as thorough and expeditious a manner as possible.”