FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) – Police in St. Louis County say they’re expecting a peaceful weekend from protesters marking the anniversary of the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson but that they'll be prepared should events turn violent.
Protest leaders are promising that events scheduled on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the St. Louis area will be relatively calm. Brown was unarmed when he was killed last Aug. 9 by a Ferguson police officer in a shooting that galvanized the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
“The events we have planned this weekend are intended to show the strength of community, the value of self-empowerment and the power of the people,” Nabeehah Azeez, of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, said at a Monday news conference, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1E64sPq ) reported. Azeez was joined by more than two dozen people from at least nine organizations at St. Louis offices for the Service Employees International Union.
The organizers called upon police to respect demonstrators’ free speech rights and to refrain from confronting them in a militarized manner.
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St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said authorities have no indication “that there is going to be anything except peaceful protest.”
Police used tear gas, armored vehicles, flash-bangs and other devices at times to control crowds during sometimes violent protests after Brown’s death. The tactics drew criticism from the Justice Department, among others.
St. Louis County police Chief Jon Belmar said Monday that his priorities are to protect residents, property and the expression of First Amendment rights.
“We have been fortunate thus far to not have a loss of life. That’s certainly our primary focus as we move into this to make sure these events honor the memory of Michael Brown and afford us the opportunity to move forward as a region and not take any steps backward,” Belmar said. “If nothing happens, there will be no reason to stage officers and equipment. … All of our activity will be predicated on that.”
Spokesman Mike O'Connell for the Department of Public Safety issued statement saying the Missouri State Highway Patrol will help St. Louis County “as needed/requested.”
Road closures are expected for protests, mostly in Ferguson. Azeez said she didn’t know how many people would attend the marches, concerts and demonstrations over the weekend.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com