National Guard troops will be deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, only to help police “keep peace” and not “clash with protesters,” officials said Monday as a state of emergency was declared ahead of a potentially inflammatory grand jury report over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer.
“We would not have the guard on the front lines interacting with, dealing with, confronting protesters,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay told reporters Monday afternoon, shortly after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed the state of emergency order.
Slay said members of the National Guard would likely be stationed at various locations in the county, including shopping malls, to provide a “visibility” and “deterrence” factor.
He added that St. Louis County law enforcement officials would take the lead role in dealing with policing protests that are likely to follow if Officer Darren Wilson, 28, is not charged in the shooting and killing of Michael Brown, 18.
“The men and women of our police department know our city the best,” said Slay. “These are our police officers. These are their neighborhoods. We feel more comfortable having them deal directly with protesters.”
Slay also said that police officers would be wearing their regular uniforms, adding, “They're not going to be having riot gear” unless situations arise in which they are necessary. “We do not want to make this look like this is a militarization of our police department, and we want to make sure people know that these cops are just there to keep peace and they’re not there to clash with protesters.”
Slay said that he and other officials in St. Louis County “learned a lot” in the months of protests that followed Brown’s death and that his priorities were to “do everything we can” to keep people and property safe as well as protect the First Amendment rights of protesters.
Nixon’s state of emergency declaration allows the St. Louis County Police and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to work in tandem as a “unified command” with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to “ensure public safety” in Ferguson and the rest of the St. Louis region.
The order will give the St. Louis County Police Department “command and operational control” over security in Ferguson with regard to protests and acts of civil disobedience. It also gives the unified command ”operational authority in such other jurisdictions it deems necessary to protect civil rights and ensure public safety.”
Officials and residents in and around Ferguson are anxiously awaiting the grand jury ruling. Many in the St. Louis area fear that violent demonstrations could erupt after the decision, particularly if criminal charges are not brought against Wilson.
Schools in the area have said they would send students home if they get word that the grand jury’s verdict was due to come in while classes are in session.