FERGUSON: The father of a black teenager killed by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson sought to ease tensions Saturday ahead of a grand jury decision on whether to indict the white officer responsible.
Rising tensions in the predominantly African American community have seen US President Barack Obama call for calm, Missouri’s governor declare a state of emergency and the FBI deploy an extra 100 personnel.
CNN cited unnamed sources as saying the grand jury will not reconvene until Monday at the earliest.
Michael Brown Sr. and his wife Cal distributed Thanksgiving turkeys in the neighborhood where his 18-year-old son Michael was shot dead by policeman Darren Wilson on August 9. The shooting sparked weeks of protests, some of them violent.
“I feel like I just had to do this,” Brown Sr. told AFP, wearing a T-shirt with a picture of his son on the front and the caption, “Gone to Soon.”
Brown Sr., visibly upset, embraced journalists and community members, but did not want to talk about the grand jury decision which has put Ferguson on edge.
CNN, quoting federal and local officials, reported that the grand jury had not reached a conclusion and it was unclear when it would reconvene.
“Everyone is suffering over this. This is painful for everyone, especially this community. I just feel this was needed so I came to do that, to make sure that people have a nice Thanksgiving,” said Brown Sr.
Brown’s killing inflamed racial tensions in mostly black St Louis suburb of 21,000 with an overwhelmingly white police force and town government.
On Friday, Brown Sr appealed for restraint in a somber video plea. “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer,” he said.
Cal, the dead teenager’s stepmom, said they gave out more than 60 turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving next week, some bought by the family and the rest donated.
“Hopefully, we’ll have big things come out of this,” she told AFP, adding the family would particularly miss Michael during the holiday season.
“Of course we’ll miss him, his wittiness, his pranks. Him with his big plate of food sitting there like a king. We’ll miss all of that, but despite it all, we have to try to have the normal for the other children.”
In the United States, grand juries meet in secret to review some cases before deciding whether criminal charges should be brought.
The jury could indict Wilson, meaning he could face trial, or it could determine there is no case for him to answer.
St Louis County prosecutors have made arrangements for a press conference to announce the decision, but no date or time has yet been confirmed.
Schools in the area announced they would close Monday and Tuesday due to potential unrest. Thanksgiving will keep them closed for the rest of next week.
Some residents doubt the jury will indict Wilson. Thomas Bradley, a 24-year-old barber, predicted that protests would be worse than in August if the officer is cleared.
“If that’s the case, I believe they will burn this city down. They’ll burn it down. For sure,” he said while finishing off a young boy’s buzz cut.
A small gaggle of protesters braved the cold late Friday to demand that Wilson stand trial for shooting Brown dead.
Brown, a high-school graduate planning on attending technical college, was shot at least six times by Wilson. His body was left in the street for hours.
Wilson reportedly told the grand jury he acted in self-defense after tussling with the youth. Others say Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot.
“I’m here for justice. If we don’t get justice, ain’t nobody gonna get no peace,” said 22-year-old Ebony, who works in security and refused to give a second name.
“We’re going to keep protesting until we know what’s right gets done,” she said. “I want to see Darren Wilson go to jail.”
“There’s going to be violence, I do believe,” said Jo Ann Davis, a government employee who said she would not take part if rallies turn ugly.
Some demonstrators in August complained that police used undue force during peaceful protests. There was widespread criticism of military-style weapons and protective gear deployed by local officers.