What Comes Next In Ferguson: More Protests, Cleanup, Legal Action

What Comes Next In Ferguson

The fires from a night of chaos were still smoldering in Ferguson, Missouri, on Tuesday as residents, protesters and the public looked forward to what happens next.

The grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown left the 18-year-old's family "profoundly disappointed." But Brown's family, Ferguson residents, police and other officials also looked forward -- to a likely long process of continued protests and reverberating legal actions.

In Ferguson, residents on Tuesday focused on cleaning up from a night that involved both peaceful protests as well as smashed windows, stolen goods and burned buildings.

The protests continued Tuesday night. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) ordered additional National Guard troops into the city. County Police Chief Jon Belmar -- the man directly responsible for policing in the St. Louis suburb -- pronounced himself "very disappointed" with what happened Monday night. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III asked that "the governor make available and deploy all necessary resources to prevent the further destruction of property and the preservation of life in the city of Ferguson."

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Public Safety said the National Guard would not provide information beyond what the governor outlined in a Nov. 17 executive order. Nixon said at the time that the guard would "support law enforcement during any period of unrest that might occur following the grand jury's decision."

In the longer run, as a parade of officials speaking on Monday before the grand jury announcement acknowledged, the entire St. Louis area will likely be the focus of continuing discussions about race and policing.

"St. Louis finds itself with an opportunity to show the nation the ways in which a community can be more fair and more just for everyone," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said at a press conference Monday. "We must seize this opportunity together."

Nixon tried to begin that push on Nov. 19 by appointing a 16-member Ferguson Committee, charged with addressing the social and economic conditions that give rise to the protests. The commission has no powers of its own, but can make recommendations, including legislative changes. Its members span a wide range, from white establishment figures and law enforcement officials, to young, black protesters.

But not everyone is in a conciliatory mood. The grand jury's decision further fuels the impression among many black residents of the area that authorities are taking neither their anger over the Brown case nor their despair over larger patterns of injustice in the St. Louis area seriously.

"We will continue to disrupt life, because without disruption we fear for our lives," said Ferguson protest leaders in an open letter released minutes after the grand jury decision. "We march on with purpose. The work continues. This is not a moment but a movement. The movement lives."

Those leaders have pledged to continue working mostly outside the system to achieve change in the St. Louis area, by building the power of grassroots groups like the Organization for Black Struggle. Some also are involved in lawsuits against the county and other police departments over the heavily militarized and aggressive response to the protests in August, charging false arrest among other official injustices.

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich (R) announced in October that he will audit the municipal courts of 10 St. Louis-area municipalities. The segregated, fragmented metropolitan area's courts have been criticized in the wake of Brown's shooting for racial disparities.

Wilson's status with the Ferguson Police Department is still under internal consideration, Mayor James Knowles III said Tuesday. Even if Wilson leaves the police force, he still may face potential legal action from both federal authorities and Brown's family.

The U.S. Department of Justice is simultaneously investigating Wilson for potential civil rights violations and Ferguson's police department for potential systemic issues. Experts have said charges against Wilson are unlikely. And while Ferguson could be forced to change its policing practices, the process would take time. Another possibility is that the Ferguson Police Department could be dissolved and its functions taken over by the larger county force.

Legal experts said they believe it is likely that Brown's family will file a wrongful death lawsuit against Wilson and the City of Ferguson. But any money damages they may win would fall far short of criminal charges.

Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.

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