Ferguson Braces for Four Days of Protest Events

(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)
(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)

Protesters in this small Midwest city measure time by counting the number of days Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson has remained free since killing Michael Brown.

Here, after 58 days, almost everyone is waiting for a grand jury to decide whether Wilson, who shot the unarmed black 18-year-old on Aug. 9, will face charges. Businesses have put off repairing looter damage and instead have covered shattered glass with wooden boards.

Demonstrators continue to call for an arrest of the white officer and say anything short of a murder charge will bring chaos. Meanwhile, city officials and police are prepared for the worst as they brace for four days of protest events this weekend.

Michael Brown Sr., one of his attorneys and community leaders held a news conference Sunday urging authorities to arrest Wilson.

“We are praying and waiting, crying and waiting, talking and waiting,” said Angela Whitman, 44, who started protesting shortly after the shooting. “If we do not get an indictment and there is no conviction, they are talking about burning our whole state down. They are talking about a whole state that they are going to take control of and just start burning stuff down. Why do we have to go through all that? This is simply about what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Along West Florissant Avenue, a main thoroughfare where thousands of protesters once gathered, the streets are calm. Tents selling “Don’t Shoot” T-shirts and voter registration booths have replaced armored police trucks and tear-gassed confrontations. QuikTrip, a convenience store that was burned shortly after Brown’s death, sits in ruins. Once ground zero for police-protester clashes, the store is surrounded by a fence adorned in colorful ribbons with messages including “Let Justice Roll Down” and “Peace & Love.”

Still, many people remain on edge.

Dozens continue to protest daily outside the Ferguson Police station. On Saturday night, during an intermission of the St. Louis Symphony and Chorus’ performance of Brahms’ Requiem, several dozen people unfurled banners from the balcony — one said “Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014” — chanted and sang about “justice for Mike Brown.” They left peacefully, and the performance resumed.

The anger and passion that led thousands to take to the streets in the days after Brown’s death hasn’t gone away, said Whitman, a disc jockey who lives 2 miles away in Berkeley. Instead, she and others are watching the news closely. That includes a report about a tweet that said, “I know someone sitting on the grand jury of this case There isn’t enough at this point to warrant an arrest.”

Edward Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, said his office is investigating the tweet. Grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret.

McCulloch had said the grand jury’s decision would probably come in October, but Magee told USA TODAY that the date has been pushed back.

“Evidence is being presented to the grand jury when they are all available to meet,” Magee said. “We have a very rough estimate of them being completed in mid-November.”

That timeline has frustrated Monique Abby, a Ferguson resident who is an attorney. “The community does not have a sense of closure when things are continually pushed back,” she said. “It feels like it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”

Mayor James Knowles III, 35, said, “Either way, somebody is going to be upset — one side or another. We are obviously preparing for all worst-case scenarios.”

That worst-case scenario is why Dan Nguyen, a cashier at Northland Chop Suey, takes restaurant orders in the shadows of boarded-up windows and doors. The store hasn’t replaced the glass that was smashed because looters could be back if Wilson isn’t charged, he said.

“I don’t know what to think,” said Nguyen, 49. “I hope it’s over. But here, at nighttime, you don’t see anybody around here anymore. People are afraid to come out. Even our business is slow.”

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Yamiche Alcindor

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