Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ferguson Area Prepared for Unrest as Region Waits on Grand Jury Decision
Ferguson youth challenge racist police force after the killing of
Michael Brown
. The nation is awaiting a grand jury decision.
Jon Swaine in Jennings, Missouri
Saturday 22 November 2014 16.23 EST

Towns around Ferguson, Missouri, were being reinforced on Saturday in anticipation of unrest after a long-awaited announcement is made on whether a white police officer will face criminal charges for shooting dead an unarmed black 18-year-old earlier this year.

As county government buildings were barricaded in Clayton, police began taking over parts of a shopping mall in Jennings, just outside Ferguson, where they ran a command centre during nights of clashes between officers and protesters that followed the death of Michael Brown on 9 August.

The latest preparations were being made after two men associated with the New Black Panther Party were charged with making so-called “straw purchases” of handguns from a retailer near Ferguson. Prosecutors are also considering bringing more serious charges against the pair, amid several reports that they were caught by the FBI trying to buy explosives for potential use during protests.

A grand jury that has been considering the shooting for more than three months is expected to announce soon whether officer Darren Wilson should be indicted for killing Brown. It emerged that jurors had not reached a decision by the end of Friday and would not do so until Monday at the earliest.

Amid mounting anxiety in the northern suburb of St Louis, Barack Obama urged demonstrators planning to take to the streets to “keep protests peaceful”. The president told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday: “Using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law, contrary to who we are.”

Authorities have warned residents and businesses to prepare for disturbances as a widespread assumption prevails among demonstrators that Wilson will not be indicted. Governor Jay Nixon last week declared a state of emergency and authorised the deployment of the Missouri national guard, while 1,000 regional police officers have been readied for the response.

Three men, aged 55, 26 and 23, were arrested after 11.10pm on Friday for unlawful assembly, according to police. One was from St Louis while two were from towns in the neighbouring state of Illinois. Sergeant Brian Schellman, a spokesman for St Louis County police, said an officer had been “making announcements to clear the street” and stating that “a failure to do so would result in arrest”.

Schellman accused one of the arrestees of blocking traffic and said that one, who was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask associated with the online activist group Anonymous, was “yelling profanities that included that they wanted Ferguson police officer Wilson ‘dead’”. One of the protesters, 26-year-old David Rodriguez, had also been arrested on Wednesday.

Earlier in the evening there was a briefly chaotic scene on West Florissant Avenue, the site of the most intense protests in August, after a driver crashed into a street light pole at the side of the road while an estimated 125 demonstrators blocked traffic at the junction with Canfield Drive, the residential street where Brown was shot dead after being stopped for jaywalking.

Meanwhile an indictment unsealed on Friday said that Olajuwon Davis, who is a “minister of justice” in the St Louis chapter of the New Black Panther Party, along with an associate, Brandon Baldwin, had been charged with breaking firearms laws.

They are accused of having Baldwin, also known as Brandon Muhammed, buy two pistols from a licensed gun dealer in Hazelwood and claim that they were for himself, when in fact he was buying them “on behalf of another person”.

CBS News reported on Friday that the men were also accused of trying to acquire explosives and were detected in an undercover FBI operation. NBC News and Reuters later reported the same. A St Louis official told the Guardian federal prosecutors in the eastern district of Missouri were “considering other charges” against them and that “the case is still under investigation”.

Davis, 22, who is also known as Olajuwon Ali, was one of several New Black Panther Party members who helped direct traffic and keep order in Ferguson on the night of 14 August, after the Missouri state highway patrol relaxed the policing of demonstrations following several nights of a military-style response from county police, whose command was then revoked.

In an email to the Riverfront Times in August, Ali wrote: “For the record we the NBPP and its local chapter members have and never promoted acts of violence towards anyone or any establishment or businesses.”

Leaders of the New Black Panther Party did not respond to emails and voicemails requesting comment. A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the FBI’s St Louis field office declined to comment.

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