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Don't Shoot Coalition Calls On Police For 'Rules Of Engagement'

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio

A coalitionthat has played a large role in organizing protests since the police killing of Michael Brown is asking the St. Louis County Prosecutor for 48-hour advance notice before announcing whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson will be charged.

The request is part of the Don't Shoot Coalition's response plan for widespread street demonstrations that are expected when the decision by a grand jury is released. County Prosecutor Bob McCullough has said the decision would be announced later this month.

“We want to de-escalate violence, but we do not want to de-escalate action,” said Don’t Shoot co-chair Michael McPhearson, during a press conference Wednesday.

Coalition membersalso called on law enforcement to follow 19 so-called “rules of engagement” in handling protesters.  

“People are going to pour into the streets, either in celebration or in rage,” said coalition member Montague Simmons, who also chairs the Organization for Black Struggle,

"People are going to pour into the streets, either in celebration or in rage..."

He said the rules are meant to promote safety and transparency.

“It’s in the best interest of the public that the police and the elected officials who control the actions of the police work together to protect the rights of those engaged in civil disobedience in the expression of their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.”

Local police forces have faced widespread criticism for using military-grade equipment and excessive force against demonstrators in the immediate aftermath of Brown’s death. 

In a statement, Sgt. Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department said the department is taking the demands seriously, adding that Police Chief Jon Belmar has met with coalition representatives to find common ground.

"The St. Louis County Police Department endorses the statement from the Don’t Shoot Coalition regarding the sanctity and preservation of human life.  To that end, and in the spirit of building communications, members of the Unified Command have met with the coalition to define common goals," the statement read.

A representative from the Missouri Department of Public Safety did not respond to a request for comment on the group's rules. They cover communication standards between demonstrators and police, use of force and militarized riot gear, indiscriminate arrests, and the right of reporters to work freely during protests.

The coalition also announced plans Wednesday to set up so-called “sanctuaries” in nearby churches where protesters can retreat during potential unrest.

Pastor Traci Blackmon said at least two sanctuaries will be set up near areas of protest activity, which are likely to be outside the St. Louis County Courthouse and the Ferguson Police Department.

“We have identified and received permission to designate certain sanctuaries as safe sanctuaries at the time the decision is announced. Each location will be open within one hour of the announcement and will remain open as long as needed.”

Blackmon said the coalition wants to bar law enforcement from the safe areas “unless there is a substantiated threat of loss of life or bodily harm from someone seeking refuge within the protected walls of the church.”

Blackmon said each sanctuary will be staffed by an organizing team, including a legal observer, first aid responder, and a therapist.

“As clergy, it is our role to hold a moral ground here,” she said.

The coalition members also said they are offering training sessions for civil disobedience and de-escalation. The group has blamed the heavy-handed approach by local law enforcement for escalating peaceful protests into violence.