St. Louis police buy $100,000 in riot gear, citizens buy guns ahead of Ferguson decision (+video)
St. Louis County police have spent about $100,000 stocking up on riot gear. Gun purchases by private citizens are up as fear rises ahead of a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case.
St. Louis — St. Louis County police said they have spent around $100,000 stocking up on riot gear and other items they may need if protests turn violent after prosecutors announce whether a Ferguson officer will face criminal charges in the shooting death of Michael Brown. And CNN reports that citizens are also preparing for the grand jury ruling: gun sales are up in St. Louis.
A state grand jury has been meeting since shortly after Brown, who was 18 and black, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, on Aug. 9. Brown was unarmed and some witnesses said he was trying to surrender. Wilson's attorneys have repeatedly declined comment.
St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch has said the grand jury decision is expected in mid- to late November. His spokesman, Ed Magee, said Monday that the decision will come no earlier than Saturday, but the exact date is not yet known. McCulloch is urging people to ignore what he calls "rank speculation" in social media about the grand jury.
Businesses, schools and government offices have been gearing up for the announcement amid fear that protests could become violent if the grand jury decides not to recommend charging Wilson.
St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman said that since August, the county has spent $65,500 for new riot gear, such as helmets, shields and batons. The department has spent another $35,000 to replenish the supply of items including pepper spray, smoke canisters and rubber bullets. Police faced criticism in the early days of the sometimes violent protests that followed the shooting for responding with riot equipment and armored vehicles.
"People are afraid they are gonna throw Molotov cocktails," says King, referring to the mostly nonviolent protests that have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting.
The increase in gun sales reaches across racial and ethnic lines, he says.
"A lot of black people coming in saying they are afraid of the hooliganism," he says.
County police Chief Jon Belmar has said police won't impede peaceful dissent after the grand jury decision, but will do what is necessary to protect the safety of protesters, police and the public.
Several school districts have asked the prosecutor's office to make the announcement on a weekend, when classes are not in session. Many have also kept parents advised of preparations.
"We've reached out to parents, first and foremost, to reassure them that student safety will always be our top priority," said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the 11,300-student Ferguson-Florissant School District. She declined to offer specifics.
Last week, civil rights activists asked for advance notice before the announcement, saying they can help prevent violence if they have 48 hours to prepare for protests.
Magee said a decision hasn't been made about how much notice will be given, and to whom.
A Turkish journalist is suing the St. Louis County Police Department over his arrest at the Ferguson police shooting protests.
The suit claims Sasmaz was thrown to the ground by an unidentified county officer and arrested for "refusing to disperse" after photographing a St. Ann police officer who was pointing his rifle at protesters. Sasmaz said he first identified himself as a journalist.
Lt. Ray Albers subsequently resigned after cellphone video emerged that showed him pointing his rifle at demonstrators while threatening at least one. A St. Louis County police sergeant forced Albers to lower the weapon and escorted him away.
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