FERGUSON, United States (AFP) – The governor of the US state of Missouri declared a state of emergency Monday and activated the National Guard ahead of a grand jury decision in the case of a black teenager shot dead by a white policeman.
There are fears of a renewed outbreak of violence if the St Louis County grand jury fails to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
In his formal declaration, posted on his website, Governor Jay Nixon said “there is the possibility of expanded unrest” when the grand jury hands down its decision.
No date has been announced for the grand jury’s decision, but St Louis. County officials have previously said it would come by mid- to late-November.
“The state of Missouri will be prepared to appropriately respond to any reaction,” said Nixon, adding that citizens’ rights to “peacefully assemble and protest” would be protected.
Nixon also activated the Missouri National Guard to back up local and state police if needed.
“All people in the St Louis region deserve to feel safe in their communities and to make their voices heard without fear of violence or intimidation,” said Nixon in a press release in which he elaborated on his state-of-emergency declaration.
“Public safety demands that we are fully prepared for any contingency.”
Nixon’s mid-afternoon declaration raised speculation of an imminent grand jury decision – but his spokeswoman told the St Louis Post-Dispatch he had no detailed knowledge of when it might come.
Brown’s death touched off weeks of sometimes violent unrest in the St Louis. suburb of Ferguson as well as a national debate about race and law enforcement in America today.
The US Justice Department is undertaking a parallel investigation into possible civil rights offenses on the part of the Ferguson police department.