Ferguson verdict: Why St. Louis schools will know first

St. Louis schools will be told three hours before the media, once the Ferguson grand jury reaches a decision on whether to charge police office Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)
Michael Brown family attorneys Anthony Gray, right, and Benjamin Crump join Michael Brown's stepfather Louis Head, left, at a news conference in front of the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo., on Nov. 13, 2014. Attorneys for the family of Michael Brown are urging restraint by both protesters and police once a grand jury decides whether the suburban St. Louis officer who shot him should face charges.

A suburban St. Louis school district says schools will get early notice once the Ferguson grand jury reaches a decision.

A letter on the Hazelwood School District's site from Superintendent Grayling Tobias says the St. Louis County prosecutor's office will alert districts 24 hours before the media if the decision is on a weekend.

If it's a weekday, Tobias says districts will learn three hours before media, so students can be sent home before potential protests. District spokesman Jack Wang says districts won't be told what the decision is.

The grand jury is expected to decide this month whether to charge white Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old who was black and unarmed.

Meanwhile, at least 600 potential demonstrators have received training on how to protest peacefully following a Ferguson grand jury announcement from a group of organizers who say they're stressing non-violence.

Two community organizations, the Don't Shoot Coalition and the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, have held meetings on how to protest peacefully after a grand jury decision, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Included in their plan is to gather in nearby Clayton the next business day after the announcement.

"We as a community of people, we aren't going to use violent power," said Michael McPhearson, co-chairman of the Don't Shoot Coalition. "We're going to use people power, to change things."

He spoke to a group of about 100 who met in St. Louis on Thursday night. A similar meeting was held at the Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Ferguson.

Organizers say they expect four "hot spots" for protesters. They are the Ferguson police station; a part of West Florissant Avenue near a convenience store that burned the day after Brown's death; a Clayton business district; and the Shaw Neighborhood, where an officer-involved fatal shooting occurred last month.

Greater St. Mark and St. John's Episcopal Church are expected to be "safe spaces" for protesters, where they say police won't be allowed to enter.

Protesters have been provided a list of items they may want to carry while rallying. Those include paper maps, extra clothes, snacks, water, goggles and gas masks to protect against pepper spray and tear gas. One woman said she didn't feel comfortable looking intimidating to police in a gas mask. Organizers said that it was OK for others if they didn't want to wear them.

St. Louis resident Lauren Ratcliff, 24, said she protested in Ferguson after Brown's death and planned on doing so again following the grand jury announcement.

"This is legitimately the start of a larger movement, and everyone feels that," she said. "And the world is watching."

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