President Barack Obama appealed for peaceful protest from those who disagreed with the decision of the grand jury, saying that no matter what decision had been, it would have generated intense disagreement in Ferguson and across the country. “I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully,” Obama said, in remarks delivered before White House reporters a few minutes after the grand jury decision had been announced.
The president quoted Michael Brown’s father saying, “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”
Obama urged local law enforcement in Ferguson and the St. Louis region to “show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur.” He said police put their lives on the line for the public every day, but he quickly added that “as they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence — distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”
The concern about policing was expressed strongly by the national head of the NAACP, who was in Ferguson when the grand jury decision was announced.
“We need to change the way policing is done in this country and that remains our charge and task,” said Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the civil rights organization.
In a telephone interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Brooks said that he’s disappointed in the grand jury’s decision. “The prosecutor and the process did not inspire a great deal of confidence, but I would say that, like a great many people across Ferguson and the country, we are more determined than we are disappointed.”
Brooks says he traveled to St. Louis from the group’s national office in Baltimore for a couple of reasons. First, he says the group is deeply rooted in the region with a county chapter dating back 70 years and a city chapter that’s 100 years old. “But I’m also here because I’m a father. I have two sons, and they are just as likely to racially profiled as any young man in Ferguson, in St. Louis and in Missouri.”
Brooks said he wanted to be here when the grand jury’s decision was announced so he could stand with the young people who have been protesting “day after day, week after week, on the streets of this community seeking to bring about justice for a grieving family and reform for an outraged community.”
For the past few months, the NAACP has been providing online training sessions for demonstrators to engage in civil disobedience leading up to and following the decision in the Darren Wilson investigation.
Brooks says the group plans to stay active in pushing for reform in Missouri and backs stronger state legislation to end racial profiling. He says to make sure the public and policy makers hear their message, the group is planning a march from Ferguson to Jefferson City beginning either on the Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving. He compared the planned march to the famous 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
The president, too, talked about broader challenges the nation faces. “The fact is that in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.” Obama said some of this distrust results from the legacy of racial discrimination in the U.S. “And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.” He also said that “the good news is we know there are things we can do to help.”
One of those is a Justice Department effort that will select five pilot communities next spring to study issues of trust and justice between law enforcement and the communities they serve and how ties can be strengthened.
As for the Wilson case, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that a Justice Department investigation is ongoing and independent of the local one. “Even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence. And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions.”
The Department of Justice is also engaged in a “pattern or practices” investigation of the Ferguson police department. That investigation will determine whether Ferguson officers engaged in systematic violations of constitutional rights of citizens. Separately, the department’s Community Oriented Policing Services office is working with St. Louis County Police in what is known as a Collaborative Reform program. Through the program, local police officials from several departments, including Ferguson, have already been provided with training in Fair and Impartial Policing — training aimed at helping police officer recognize so-called implicit biases and how such biases impact everyone, even those who reject the idea of racial profiling and stereotyping individuals and groups.
The program is a multi-year effort aimed at identifying areas where police departments can make improvements that help build bonds between law enforcement and their communities. St. Louis County Police voluntarily requested the assistance made available through the Collaborative Reform process.
According to a Ferguson response website, more than 120 events were planned in 38 state, the District of Columbia and one outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto Canada most are planned for tomorrow — the day after the announcement.
The night of the announcement, several hundred people protesting in Philadelphia and smaller group in Pittsburgh echoed the chants that have been heard in this area: "No justice, no peace!" "No racist police.": 6 ABC
As in many cities, demonstrators in Seattle sat down for 4½ minutes: Seattle Times
Hundreds marched to the White House. NBC4
Reaction was tinged with sadness in Los Angeles: LA Times
Donna Korando contributed to this report.