Tense Ferguson braces for grand jury decision

2014-11-23 10:00
A demonstrator shouts slogans as she waves a US flag in Ferguson, Missouri during a march to protest the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. (Jewel Samad, AFP)

A demonstrator shouts slogans as she waves a US flag in Ferguson, Missouri during a march to protest the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. (Jewel Samad, AFP)

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Ferguson - The father of a black teenager killed by police in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson sought to ease tensions on Saturday as protesters stepped up calls for a grand jury to indict the white officer responsible.

The predominantly African American community has been on edge over the jury's expected decision.

US President Barack Obama has called for calm, Missouri's governor declared a state of emergency and the FBI deployed extra personnel.

But contrary to days of speculation, US media reported that no decision would come this weekend, with the jury only expected to reconvene on Monday at the earliest.

The jury can either indict police officer Darren Wilson, meaning he could face trial for the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on 9 August, or determine there is no case for him to answer.

"Everyone is suffering over this"

Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr, and his wife Cal distributed Thanksgiving turkeys in the neighbourhood the killing sparked weeks of protests, some of them violent.

"I feel like I just had to do this," Brown Sr told AFP, wearing a T-shirt with a picture of his son on the front and the caption, "Gone to Soon".

Visibly upset, Brown Sr embraced journalists and community members, but stopped short of commenting on the grand jury decision that has put Ferguson on edge.

"Everyone is suffering over this. This is painful for everyone, especially this community. I just feel this was needed so I came to do that, to make sure that people have a nice Thanksgiving," he said.

Appeal for restraint

Earlier in the week, he appealed for restraint in a sombre video plea. "Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer," he said.

His son's killing inflamed racial tensions in mostly black St Louis suburb of 21 000 with an overwhelmingly white police force and town government.

Cal, the dead teenager's stepmom, said they gave out more than 60 turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving next week, some bought by the family and the rest donated.

"Hopefully, we'll have big things come out of this," she told AFP, adding the family would particularly miss Michael during the holiday season.

"Of course we'll miss him, his wittiness, his pranks. Him with his big plate of food sitting there like a king. We'll miss all of that, but despite it all, we have to try to have the normal for the other children."

On Saturday night, 15 to 20 protesters braved the rain to stage a spirited demonstration for around an hour, dancing to the beat of a young drummer, waving a US flag and demanding justice.

"Police don't like it, we want an indictment," they chanted in rhythm. "This is what democracy looks like," they said. "No justice, no peace," "You got to fight back" and "You won't stop the revolution".

The small group, which included women and a young child, marched from the spot where Brown was shot dead, to and from the main street where the protests were concentrated in August before dispersing peacefully.

'Burn this city down'

There are rising fears in Ferguson that Wilson will not be indicted.

"If that's the case, I believe they will burn this city down. They'll burn it down. For sure," said 24-year-old barber Thomas Bradley, finishing off a young boy's buzz cut.

He said the backlash could be worse than the protests in August.

Brown, a high-school graduate planning on attending technical college, was shot at least six times by Wilson. His body was left in the street for hours.

Wilson reportedly told the grand jury he acted in self-defence after tussling with the youth. Others say Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot.

"We're going to keep protesting until we know what's right gets done," said a 22-year-old who would only give her name as Ebony.

"I want to see Darren Wilson go to jail," she said at a similar protest on Friday.

In August, police were accused of using excessive force during peaceful protests. There was widespread criticism of military-style weapons and protective gear deployed by local officers.

"If protesters are not violent, police will not be aggressive. But if some protesters turn violent or threatening, police will respond to keep everyone safe," St Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.

Read more on:    michael brown  |  barack obama  |  us

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