In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with federal, state and local elected officials from Missouri, Attorney General Eric Holder pledged the Justice Department’s continued assistance. He stressed that law enforcement must always seek to de-escalate tensions and respect the rights of protesters in any demonstrations in and around Ferguson in the weeks ahead.
The phone call comes as officials and the public await an announcement by a grand jury on whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
Holder thanked the officials for their work in planning the local response to the ongoing demonstrations and said he is encouraged by reports he has received about progress being made in those planning efforts, including dialogue with coalition leaders about constructive engagement in the weeks ahead.
The Justice Department released details of the conference call in a printed statement Wednesday evening.
Department spokesman Brian Fallon said Holder also urged “continued and direct communications between elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders in the days ahead to help deescalate tensions and assist with planning.”
Wednesday’s conference call is the second high-level contact between the Obama administration and Missouri officials in the past five days; indicating the concern the White House has over the potential for unrest should the grand jury decide not to indict Wilson. On Friday, President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and offered federal support should the state request it.
On Wednesday Politico reported that Obama met with a small group of top civil rights leaders the day after the midterm elections and urged their groups to work to keep the peace and respect protester’s rights.
In a telephone interview with St. Louis Public Radio, NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said his organization is providing training in nonviolent civil disobedience with its branches in Ferguson, St. Louis County and the state ahead of the grand jury’s announcement. “We believe that this is the most effective, most morally credible and the most strategic device we can deploy,” should the grand jury decide not to indict Wilson. “We have to put bodies and hearts and minds on the streets so that we can send a message that is unmistakable and is heard loud and clear across the length and breadth of the country,” said Brooks.
Brooks says his group is not expecting violence. “The violence that we’re focusing on is the violent act by an armed police officer against an unarmed teenager.”
NAACP organizers have been providing training sessions in nonviolent civil disobedience, via Google Hangouts. In one such session Monday night, organizers urged those planning to demonstrate not to wear contact lenses and to cover as much of their skin as possible for protection from tear gas. They also suggested that demonstrators write important medical information and phone numbers on their bodies in ink should they be arrested and not be allowed to keep any papers in their pockets.
On Monday, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch issued a statement addressing speculation about when the grand jury’s decision will be released.
In the statement, he said that as recently as last week the grand jury was still hearing evidence. "I realize that this is a much anticipated decision and that there is daily, if not hourly, speculation about when the announcement will be released. Once the work of the grand jury is completed and they have made a determination, my office will advise the public and the media when their decision will be released. Until that notice comes directly from this Office, ANY AND ALL claims of an announcement date or time from any source, especially social media, are rank speculation and should be ignored."