St Louis police erected barricades and businesses were boarded up Sunday as the clock ticked down to a grand jury decision on whether to indict a white officer for shooting dead an unarmed black teenager.
Michael Brown, an 18-year-old high school graduate planning to go to technical college, was shot at least six times by Darren Wilson in the suburb of Ferguson on August 9, inflaming racial tensions and sparking weeks of sometimes violent protests.
The mostly black suburb of 21,000, which has an overwhelmingly white police force and town government, has been on edge for days in anticipation of the jury’s decision on whether Wilson should be prosecuted.
A 20-minute drive away in Clayton, another suburb where the grand jury has been meeting, metal interlocking fences and orange plastic barricades sealed off the Buzz Westfall Justice Center.
An officer unfurled yellow police tape reading “Do Not Cross” and “St Louis Police Lines” around the barricades. The road in front of the building has been barricaded off.
St Louis County informed businesses and residents that they were securing buildings in downtown Clayton and temporarily restricting traffic.
“We will keep these traffic restrictions in place as long as they seem prudent,” it said in a statement.
St Louis County police spokesman Rick Eckhard defended the barricades as “just a preventive measure.”
US President Barack Obama has called for calm. Missouri’s governor has declared a state of emergency and the FBI deployed extra personnel.
– Churches ready to help –
No date, time or location for the announcement has been released, although the prosecuting attorney said he expects a decision before the end of the month.
US media reported that the jury will not reconvene before Monday.
The jury can either indict Wilson, meaning he could face trial for Brown’s death, or determine there is no case for him to answer.
Wilson reportedly told the jury he acted in self-defense after tussling with Brown. Others say Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot dead, his body left in the street for several hours.
Around a dozen local churches have grouped together in a coalition to offer help and support to the anxious community.
Pastor Willis Johnson told worshipers at Wellspring Church in Ferguson that within an hour of the announcement, his church would be open at least 72 hours.
The church will provide prayer, educational activities for children, free meals, counseling, group therapy and a venue for conversation.
“We’ll have clinical psychologists and interventionists that’ll be here for those who are remonstrating or just trying to deal with what’s going on,” Johnson told AFP.
In Ferguson, owners have boarded up shops and businesses on the street where protests were concentrated in August, also braced for a violent fallout.
Johnson conceded that security precautions were “very much necessary” though they “added to the tension, the anxiety.”
– Mother’s appeal –
“We hope this is much ado about nothing,” he said.
“We hope this is simply us trying as best we can respond in ways that provide some at least some sense of security and stability for a community desperately is going to do the long work of getting stronger, unifying and healing.”
Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden on Saturday visited the spot where her son was killed, telling people that she did not want more clashes with police who were criticized for a heavy-handed response to the demonstrations in August.
“I just want y’all to be careful. Don’t agitate them, don’t let them agitate y’all. I don’t want nobody getting hurt,” she said.
In the pouring rain, a 43-year-old delivery man and single father brought his three children for the first time to see the spot where Brown was shot dead, turned into a memorial with flowers and teddy bears in the street.
“I just wanted to show them the importance of it,” he said, declining to give his full name. The family then held hands and bowed their heads in prayer.
“It’s really sad that in 2014 we’re still dealing with race issues in America. That’s really sad, it really is.”
He expressed sympathy for both sides, but said the police needed to hire more black officers and that more needed to be done for young, less affluent blacks.
“It needs to change. This is an unfortunate event what happened to Mike Brown, and the police officer. I feel bad for both sides, both families,” the man added.