On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American man in Ferguson, Missouri. News of the shooting rapidly spread on social media and sparked a national conversation on allegations of racial injustices and inequality in the criminal justice system. Within 24 hours of the shooting, CRS arrived in Ferguson, established contact with law enforcement, began assessing community tension, and started identifying local community and faith leaders.
Throughout the following days and weeks, individuals from across the country arrived in Ferguson to protest local police actions and perceived biased policing nationwide. CRS met with officials from various law enforcement agencies and local community leaders to build and support the development of viable working relationships.
CRS established a coalition of local elected and government agency officials, community leaders, law enforcement, school administrators, and faith leaders from the greater St. Louis area to discuss the underlying issues of the conflict and begin the process of developing long-term solutions to the community tension.
CRS staff conducted several Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) programs at local schools to reduce student tension following the shooting and the resulting protests. In addition, CRS facilitated numerous community dialogues and town hall meetings to allow residents the chance to voice their concerns and develop local community solutions in a non-sensationalized environment. CRS facilitated meetings between U.S. Department of Justice leaders and local community members to further ensure national leaders heard the community’s concerns and feelings.
Tensions grew in Ferguson and the St. Louis area, and subsequent demonstrations escalated into clashes with police and the destruction of public and private property. In response, CRS deployed additional team members to provide event marshal training and guidance to demonstration leaders on how to keep protests peaceful and prevent outbreaks of violence while exercising their First Amendment rights.
To reduce and counter the spread of dangerous speculation with timely and factual information, CRS worked with law enforcement to institute rumor control measures. As the legal process progressed, CRS worked closely with law enforcement, merchants, community leaders, and protest organizers to support the development of contingency plans that could be implemented to offset disorder stemming from milestone events such as the grand jury verdict announcement.
The reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown soon spread to communities across the country. As demonstrations occurred in cities and towns across the United States, CRS teams across the country monitored tensions, conducted outreach to protest leaders and law enforcement, and provided appropriate service to ensure demonstrations remained peaceful.
Photo Credit: Getty Images