ST. LOUIS — In an effort to avoid a return to the unrest that thrust Ferguson into the national spotlight, officials and protesters here have established proposed rules of engagement for when a grand jury issues its decision on whether to indict the police officer accused of fatally shooting Michael Brown.
The panel is expected to decide the fate of Ferguson Darren Wilson as soon as this weekend.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, county executive Charlie Dooley and Missouri Public Safety Director Daniel Isom announced the 19 proposed rules on Friday. (See the full list below.) Slay said officials hashed out the list after meeting with certain protest leaders by phone and in person five times over the past three months. He said the list was not the result of negotiations, but an effort to engage in conversation.
The unified command — consisting of city, state and National Guard officers — agreed outright to eight of the terms, including that the first priority would be preservation of human life, and that police would treat protesters as citizens and not “enemy combatants.” Other terms were agreed to with some caveats, such as officers agreeing to wear attire minimally required for their safety, but also not excluding the use of protective gear, though they agreed such gear would not be used to intimidate protesters.
WATCH: Ferguson prepares for the next wave of protests
Law-enforcement officials did not agree to ban the use of “crowd control equipment” like armored vehicles, rubber bullets, rifles and tear gas. And they could not agree to give protesters 48-hours’ notice before the grand jury’s decision is announced, as such decisions aren’t under their control.
Slay told reporters heading into the weekend that it would be “imprudent not to plan for protests, regardless of the grand jury’s decision.” In their remarks, officials praised the overall efforts of law enforcement and the mostly peaceful actions of protesters but underscored the need for peace and protection of people and property.
“We have instructed our police officers to protect the protesters’ constitutional rights,” Slay said. “If protesters are not violent, police will not be aggressive. But, if some protesters turn violent or threatening, police will respond to keep everyone safe.”
At a separate press conferences on Friday, groups in support of the Brown family also urged calm ahead of the decision, which prosecutor Bob McCullouch has said could come this month. Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency ahead of the grand jury’s announcement — a move some say has ratcheted up tensions in the city’s already emotionally charged atmosphere.
“Let’s face it: The city is really in a panic in anticipation of this decision,” said Brown family attorney Anthony Gray, who reiterated on behalf of Brown’s parents that they did not want their son’s legacy tarnished by acts of violence in the wake of the grand jury’s decision.
“We have concern because of what happened immediately after this incident broke,” Gray said, referring to the unrest in August in the weeks following Brown’s death.
Proposed Rules of (Engagement) Conduct
- The first priority shall be preservation of human life. (Unified Command Agrees)
- Police will wear only the attire minimally required for their safety. Specialized riot gear will be avoided except as a last resort. (Unified Command Agrees with first sentence. Police will use protective gear when needed to protect police officers. It will not be used to intimidate protesters.)
- Crowd control equipment such as armored vehicles, rubber bullets, rifles and tear gas will not be used. (Unified Command believes public safety should determine the best tools to keep people safe.)
- Police or other government authorities will not interfere with the free flow of information through tactics such as limiting cell or internet access, interception of cell or other mobile conversations or unwarranted wiretaps. (Unified Command Agrees)
- Every attempt will be made to pinpoint arrests so that only individual lawbreakers will be arrested. “Kettling” and mass arrests will not be used. (Unified Command Agrees with the first sentence. Police will only arrest demonstrators who violate the law.)
- Safe houses shall be considered sacred ground and only entered by police when called upon or if extremely necessary. (Unified Command will honor safe houses. Subterfuge will not be used to enter. However, life safety and exigent circumstances are valid reasons to enter.)
- Media and Legal Observers shall not be considered participants in protests and shall be allowed to do their jobs freely. Unified Command believes everyone should be treated as general public (Parties acknowledge and agree that media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or safety of others or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.)
- Every attempt will be made to provide alternate routes or other means for non-involved persons to get to places of employment and meet other transportation necessities. (Unified Command Agrees)
- Strategically, police commanders will allow protests to take and occupy larger and more disruptive spaces than would normally be tolerated, and will allow occupation of those spaces for longer periods of time than would normally be tolerated. (Case by case basis)
- Clear standards of professionalism and sound community friendly-policing will be maintained and adhered to at all times. (Unified Command Agrees)
- Police will be instructed to be more tolerant of more minor lawbreaking (such as thrown water bottles) when deciding whether to escalate the use of force. (Police will only take action to protect public safety. They will not use singular minor offenses as an excuse to disband protests. Unified Command also believes that peaceful demonstrators should speak out against actions that threaten public safety, and should work with police to stop them.)
- Police rank and file will be instructed to provide every latitude to allow for free assembly and expression, treating protesters as citizens and not “enemy combatants.” (Unified Command Agrees)
- Excessive force and other forms of police misconduct will not be tolerated. (Unified Command Agrees and encourages Coalition to renounce violence and aggressive acts towards Police Officers and citizens.)
- Intimidation and harassment of protesters will not be tolerated. This includes pretextual pedestrian or traffic stops, contacting of employers or family members, pre-emptive arrests or detention of “leaders,” publishing of private information and any other means of intimidation and harassment. (Unified Command agrees and also believes that the Coalition should renounce harassment of police officers and the release of personal information by protesters.)
- Bond for arrestees will not be set above the levels which would be considered average over the last two years, and arrestees will not be held for periods longer than average lengths of time. Medical care will be liberally made available. Attorneys will be able to travel to and meet with clients without impediments. (Bond for arrestees will not be set at levels greater than is customary for like charges under ordinary circumstances; arrestees will not be held or confined for longer than is customary for like charges under ordinary circumstances; corrections officials will meet their obligations under law to provide medical care, and provide attorneys reasonable and reasonably timely access to their clients and information about their clients’ status.)
- Police will give protesters 48 hour advance notice before grand jury decision is announced. (Not under the purview of the Unified Command)
- Channels of communication will be established so that situations can be de-escalated if necessary. (Unified Command Agrees)
- Police will provide to the public information that makes clear the chain of command, who is making what decisions and the processes for deciding when the police response will be escalated. (Unified Command Agrees)
- Every attempt should be made to communicate with protesters to reach “common sense” agreements based on these protocols, both ahead of time and at the scene of protests. (Unified Command Agrees)