Much at stake for US in Ferguson grand jury decision
A grand jury is expected to soon decide whether white officer involved in black teen's shooting will face trial.
Months of tension following the shooting death of an unarmed black teen are at risk of boiling over in the St. Louis area as a grand jury prepares to decide if the case will go to trial.
The Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson ignited weeks of intense protests, with sometimes violent clashes erupting between police and protesters.
Demonstrations have continued at various levels since, sometimes drawing thousands to the area, but largely remaining peaceful throughout.
Protesters have demanded that Wilson be tried, linking Brown’s death to what they say are larger problems of racism within the police force, and across the country. They have held protests across the area since Brown was killed, with demonstrations outside the Ferguson Police Department occurring daily.
The grand jury is expected to hand down its decision as soon as Friday and fears have been mounting that the violent clashes previously seen on the streets of the St. Louis suburb could return should it fail to issue an indictment.
Leaks from within the grand jury's investigation have indicated that jurors may decide not to indict Wilson due to a lack of evidence. Police generally have great leeway in their application of lethal force.
Activists have asked for a 48-hour advance notice from authorities before the decision is made public to prepare for protests and hopefully prevent violence from returning to the area.
CNN reported that the area has seen a significant jump in gun sales recently – a possible indication that resident there are preparing for the worst.
Vivid scenes of tear gas and riot gear directed at protesters seen during the early days of demonstrations squarely focused attention on potential rights abuses.
The response by police has been widely criticized as an excessive application of force, with President Barack Obama ordering a review of federal programs that allow local police forces to acquire surplus military equipment.
The Justice Department also opened an independent investigation into the shooting as well as allegations of past cases of discrimination within the Ferguson Police Department.
In a report issued last month, Amnesty International said, "The U.S. government must do much more to address systemic racial discrimination and ensure policing practices nationwide are brought into line with international human rights standards.”
The human rights group added that equipping police with military-grade hardware "may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict is inevitable rather than possible.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a separate report, also issued last month, that the police response posed striking questions that hit to the heart of American democracy.
"The predominately white local and county police responded to the largely peaceful protests in the overwhelmingly African-American community with a show of force that left Americans wondering whether they were watching events unfold on the streets of suburban St. Louis or on the streets of an authoritarian country,” the group said.
But the controversy has not been limited to the streets. A report by The Associated Press said that federal authorities tacitly agreed to restrict approximately 37 miles of airspace in order to bar news helicopters from gaining access as protests raged below.
That could be a significant breach of the media’s First Amendment rights, which guarantees freedom of the press within the U.S.
Amnesty voiced concern over restrictions placed on members of the media, noting that at least 19 journalists and other members of the media were taken into custody, while others were reportedly harassed or physically threatened.
An Anadolu Agency’s correspondent, Bilgin Sasmaz, was injured and detained by police Aug. 17 while covering the protests.
The grand jury's decision, whenever it comes, may prove pivotal in whether or not clashes and ensuing clampdowns again define the area.
Last Modified: 2014-11-11 10:13:30
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