Missouri’s governor has declared a state of emergency and mobilised the National Guard as a grand jury is poised to decide whether a white police officer will be charged over the fatal shooting
of an unarmed black teenager.
The state militia will back up police in case the decision leads to a fresh wave of the violent civil unrest that occurred in the days immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown by policeman Darren Wilson in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson on August 9 .
“All people in the St Louis region deserve to feel safe in their communities and to make their voices heard without fear of violence or intimidation,” governor Jay Nixon said.
There is no specific date for the grand jury decision, but St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch has said that he expects it in mid-to-late November.
The grand jury is considering whether there is enough evidence to charge Officer Wilson with a crime and, if so, what the charge should be. If the jury issues an indictment, a separate jury will be selected to decide whether the person is guilty.
The US Justice Department, which is conducting a separate investigation, has not said when its work will be completed.
Before the shooting, Officer Wilson spotted Mr Brown, 18, and a friend walking in the middle of a street and told them to stop, but they did not. According to a St Louis Post-Dispatch report based on unnamed sources, Officer Wilson told authorities he then realised Mr Brown matched the description of a suspect in a theft minutes earlier at a convenience store.
He backed up his police vehicle and some sort of confrontation occurred before Mr Brown was shot dead. He was unarmed and some witnesses have said he had his hands up when he was killed.
Mr Brown’s shooting stirred long-simmering racial tensions in Ferguson, where two thirds of residents are black, but the police force is almost entirely white. Rioting and looting a day after the shooting led police to respond to subsequent protests with a heavily armoured presence that was widely criticised for continuing to escalate tensions.
At times, protesters lobbed rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who fired tear gas, smoke canisters and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse crowds.
Mr Nixon also declared a state of emergency in August and put the Missouri State Highway Patrol in charge of a unified local police command. Eventually he activated the National Guard to provide security around the command centre.
This time, Mr Nixon said the St Louis County Police Department would be in charge of a unified police command in Ferguson. The St Louis city police and Missouri State Highway Patrol will help.
The governor did not indicate how many National Guard troops would be mobilised, instead leaving it to the state adjutant general to determine. He said the National Guard would be available to carry out any requests made through the highway patrol to “protect life and property” and support local authorities.
If the guard is able to provide security at police and fire stations, more police officers may be freed up to patrol the community, Mr Nixon said.
St Louis mayor Francis Slay said he supported Mr Nixon’s decision to activate the guard, which he said “will be used in a secondary role” and could potentially be stationed at places such as shopping centres and government buildings.