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What to Watch as the Ferguson Drama Continues to Unfold

November 27th 2014

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The long Thanksgiving holiday weekend is going to be dominated by one story: Ferguson and its aftermath.

Protests are likely to quiet as families gather around the table to celebrate the holiday - with many discussing the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Mo., to not bring an indictment against police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American. The political world has taken notice of Ferguson, particularly with demonstrations spreading across the country. The degree to which the story continues to dominate discussions may depend on five factors.

Will President Obama go to Ferguson?

Obama, the nation’s first black president, has already addressed the racially-charged Ferguson decision twice. The president is unlikely to make a trip on Thanksgiving, and the Secret Service would surely want to make sure any presidential visit is safe.

But Obama hasn't ruled out a trip to the St. Louis suburb, saying at the White House on Monday that his administration would take a look and see how things are going.

The following day, a White House spokesman said a trip was under consideration. 

Obama's public comments from the White House on Monday night came with difficult imaging. Split screens showed demonstrations turning violent as Obama urged protesters to stay peaceful.

Still, a trip to Ferguson would allow the president to once again drive the news, something he’s increasingly been seeking to do since the midterm elections.

And it is many of Obama's supporters across the country, particularly young people who once gravitated to the president, that are demonstrating around the country in protest of the decision.

Will Wilson go silent?

The officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, broke his public silence in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday.

He said there was a tussle in the police car after Brown punched him, and that Brown tried to grab his gun. After Brown retreated, Wilson said he followed, and took the final shots when Brown charged at him.

Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, said Wednesday on CBS that she "doesn’t believe a word" of Wilson's story. Protesters have adopted the gesture of putting their hands in the air based on accounts that Brown had raised his hands in surrender before being shot.

There is a high demand for interviews with Wilson, and his story is sure to be challenged further in the coming days.

But there is also the possibility of a civil case, and the Justice Department is also investigating the incident.

That made Wilson's interview with ABC all the more intriguing, and raises question about whether that will be the last the public hears from him for some time.

Will there be more unrest?

The National Guard's presence in Ferguson was tripled to 2,200 after stores were looted and buildings and cars were burned in the hours following the grand jury’s decision.

Troops fanned out around businesses and lined streets.

There was then less damage done on Tuesday night, though windows were smashed at Ferguson City Hall.

Ferguson Police Chief Jon Belmar called it a "much better night," though there were still 44 arrests.

Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, who has been organizing in Ferguson as part of the peace organization Fellowship of Reconciliation, said the police response remains harsh.

"I've been tear gassed three times in the last 36 hours," he said. "The police continue to engage in behavior unworthy of a democracy."

He called for the demilitarization of police and a federal investigation into police practices. "People will continue to stay in the streets," he said.

It remains to be seen whether protests and unrest will die down over the holiday and with the continued heavy presence of authorities, or whether the situation will flare back up.

What happens in other cities?

Demonstrations protesting the grand jury decision have spread across the country, though they have been largely peaceful.

A theme around the country has been protesters blocking traffic on highways, which has occurred in New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and St. Louis, the Associated Press reported. 

Ryan Coogler, director of the film "Fruitvale Station," about a young black man killed by police, is joining with other artists to organize a boycott of stores across the country on Black Friday.

The boycott will "tap into that idea that you have voting power, you have the power of protest, you also have economic power," Coogler said. 

Color of Change, a national civil rights group involved in Ferguson, is pushing for a Department of Justice investigation of discriminatory policing in every state in the country, and an end to federal grants for military-style equipment for police.

"What's next is to continue to push for this national set of demands around policing," said Rashad Robinson, the group's executive director.

New video of a police officer shooting a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland on Saturday could also spark more protests.

Watch for whether these protests keep up around the country, and whether they can remain as peaceful and with relatively few arrests.

How will Nixon handle it?

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has faced widespread criticism for his handling of the situation in Ferguson.

Even before the announcement of the grand jury's decision, Nixon came under fire when he was asked on a conference call with reporters if the buck stopped with him.

He gave a halting, stuttering response where he eventually said, "I have to say I don't spend a tremendous amount of time personalizing this vis-a-vis me."

Then, on Tuesday, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said that the National Guard had not been deployed in time to stop the vandalism the previous night, despite the efforts by him and others to contact the governor and get him to deploy more troops. Nixon has now deployed additional Guard members, but his leadership is sure to be tested again.

Peter Sullivan writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.


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