FERGUSON, MISSOURI – Anxious residents of a St. Louis suburb Sunday awaited a grand jury’s decision on whether to bring criminal charges against a white policeman who fatally shot a black teen in a case that has become a flash point for U.S. race relations.
The slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, prompted weeks of demonstrations by protesters demanding Wilson be indicted.
The policeman has said he fired on the teen in self-defense, while Brown’s companion has said the young man had his hands raised at the time in an act of surrender.
Activists and police have been taking steps to avoid more turmoil, especially if the grand jury does not indict Wilson.
Media reports suggesting the verdict could be imminent have jacked up tensions in the area in recent days, fueled by nightly rallies and increasingly high-profile law enforcement presence.
Steady rain put a bit of a damper on most of Saturday night’s protests. About 40 mostly teenaged demonstrators strode up and down a main street in Ferguson, waving upside-down U.S. flags and home-made placards and chanting, “We’re young, we’re strong, we’re marching all night long.”
Other protesters gathered outside Ferguson police headquarters for a fourth straight night, while convoys of law enforcement vehicles patrolled after dark.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, earlier told demonstrators gathered at the site where her son’s body had lain that they must remain peaceful whatever the grand jury decides, and that they should not be provoked by the police.
“Don’t agitate them. Don’t let them agitate you,” she said. “I don’t want nobody to get hurt.”
St. Louis prosecutors have said the grand jury’s decision will be announced at a news conference, but the date, time and location remain unknown.
NBC News reported Saturday that the 12-member panel will resume meeting behind closed doors Monday, meaning a decision could still be some way off. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency and called in National Guard troops to back up police, which protesters have criticized as heavy-handed.
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