St. Louis: It’s been more than three months since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo.
For several weeks, a St. Louis County grand jury has deliberated to determine whether Wilson should be held criminally liable for Brown’s death. Many believe that Wilson will not be indicted, based primarily on information about the proceedings that have been leaked to the media, coverage that at times has favored Wilson’s account of his encounter with Brown and Gov. Jay Nixon’s recent declaration of a state of emergency and activation of the National Guard in anticipation of the grand jury decision.
Larry Fellows III—who was fired from his job after weeks of protesting law enforcement’s response to the incident—told The Root, “We’re expecting something, but we really don’t know what that looks like.”
The grand jury announcement is expected at any time. And with tension building in Ferguson, some in the community are choosing to prepare for the worst. Beauty supply stores, restaurants, convenience marts and a Sprint store in the area are among those that have placed boards on their windows and entrances in the event of damage or break-ins. To let customers know that they’re open for business, they’ve spray-painted “Open” or “We are open” on the boards or placed printed signs on storefronts or in the grass around their buildings.
Local businesses, churches, activists and police departments say that they’re hoping to ensure peace and prevent violence while protecting the right to protest, and to provide a safe environment for citizens and their property. Although their stated objectives are similar, there’s a stark difference in their methods.
“They’re preparing with artillery, armor and guns; and we’re preparing by gathering Band-Aids, food and water,” said Fellows. He added, “They’re preparing for war, and we’re preparing for our safety.”
According to The Guardian and Associated Press, state and local police departments combined have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, purchasing items such as helmets and sticks along with tear gas, riot gear and additional crowd-control equipment.
While protesting in recent weeks, the Rev. Renita Marie Lamkin of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church of St. Charles was teargassed, pepper-sprayed and hit with a rubber bullet. “The sense of the community is that they [local government] are bringing the force out against us, and it enrages us,” she told The Root. “There are also parts of the community that feel separated from these issues, and as if this is justified force against us.”
Last week a Missouri Ku Klux Klan chapter distributed a flier directed at protesters in St. Louis County neighborhoods and on Twitter, which suggested that the group will use “lethal force as provided under Missouri law to defend [themselves]” and which closed with “you have been warned by the Ku Klux Klan!”
Others in the area are purchasing weapons. The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel reports that because of fear about the aftermath of the grand jury decision, “there has been about a 700 percent spike in sales” at a gun store near Ferguson.
Protesters are preparing by attending training sessions that focus on what they should expect in interactions with law enforcement. They have a buddy system and a meeting plan in place. For protection, churches will open their doors as sanctuaries, and safe houses will also be established. Demonstrators have been encouraged to put together and bring emergency kits that include items like granola bars, makeshift gas masks, handkerchiefs and layers of clothing to stay warm. Goggles are another item suggested, along with baby shampoo that demonstrators can use to wash their skin if it comes in contact with chemicals.
“We are much more prepared and know how to better protect ourselves,” said Lamkin, who is known to many of her parishioners as, simply, Pastor Renita. “The system thought it would break us over time, but we have had time to heal and are so much stronger than we were 103 days ago.”