Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2015
Police commanders are expecting a peaceful weekend–and demonstrators are promising it. But authorities said Monday they would be prepared if the observance of the first anniversary of the controversial police killing of Michael Brown turned violent.
An organizer for a series of events characterized them at a press conference Monday as mainly “family-friendly, open to the public and free of charge.”
“The events we have planned this weekend are intended to show the strength of community, the value of self-empowerment and the power of the people,” said Nabeehah Azeez, of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.
Azeez was joined by more than two dozen people from at least nine organizations at the Central West End offices for the Service Employees International Union. They called on police to respect the free speech rights of demonstrators and refrain from confronting protesters in a militarized manner.
St. Louis County police Chief Jon Belmar said Monday that his priorities were to protect life, property and the expression of First Amendment rights, in that order.
“We have been fortunate thus far to not have a loss of life, that’s certainly our primary focus as we move into this to make sure these events honor the memory of Michael Brown and afford us the opportunity to move forward as a region and not take any steps backward,” the chief said.
Police do expect some roadway closures for protests, mostly in Ferguson. And they think some protesters may seek to interrupt retail areas on what is Missouri’s annual tax-free weekend for buying school supplies and clothing.
Azeez said she did not know how many people would attend the marches, concerts and demonstrations planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But she said it was a historic moment that would undoubtedly include people from outside the St. Louis area.
On Monday, protesters are planning a day of “civil disobedience.” No one at the press conference would elaborate, but Azeez said it would not be “family-friendly.”
To help parents who want to participate in protests, organizers have established around-the-clock child care, she said.
According to numerous sources and documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch, multiple agencies have made just-in-case preparations: The FBI will provide additional air support and extra bomb technicians as needed. St. Louis County’s Emergency Operations Command Center will be activated. The highway patrol and county police will assemble personnel and equipment near Ferguson and in Clayton.