Attorney General Eric Holder is right to urge law enforcement authorities to minimize the potential for confrontations during possible demonstrations in protest of a decision by a St. Louis County grand jury weighing the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black teenager by a white police officer.
At press time, a St. Louis County grand jury continues its investigation of the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.
“It is vital to engage in planning and preparation, from evaluating protocols and training to choosing the appropriate equipment and uniforms,’’ Holder said on Friday in a video message posted on the Justice Department website. “This is the hard work that is necessary to preserve the peace and maintain the public trust at all times— particularly in moments of heightened community tension.”
Holder, who is overseeing a parallel civil rights inquiry into the shooting of Brown, issued written guidance to police across the country, identifying “best practices that will help law enforcement officers maintain public safety while safeguarding constitutional rights.’’
A decision by the grand jury could come at any time, and authorities have expressed fear that a decision could prompt more unrest in the St. Louis region and elsewhere.
Authorities are understandably concerned about the fallout from a decision, but should be careful not to overreact to peaceful protests protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in preparation for a possible uprising when the grand jury’s decision is made public.
The governor’s decision seems both premature and unnecessarily provocative. Some of the earlier unrest in Ferguson can be attributed to an overbearing military-like approach to citizen protests.
Emotions are running high in Ferguson, and some outside agitators might try to exploit the legitimate anger of Ferguson residents for their own political purposes.
Citizens who have had enough of controversial police-involved shooting would be expected to demonstrate after the decision if the grand jury decides not to prosecute, but protesters should adhere to non-violence.