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As St. Louis Prepares For Grand Jury Decision, Protesters Hold Trainings

Activist Lisa Fithian leads a training session at Greater St. Mark's Church in Dellwood. 11/08 Durrie Bouscaren
Durrie Bouscaren
St. Louis Public Radio

In Ferguson, nearly every store window is boarded up along West Florissant Avenue. Police department have stocked riot gear and held trainings to respond to potential civil unrest. And protesters have held sessions to organize their own response.

In many ways, it feels as though the St. Louis region is holding its breath awaiting the grand jury’s decision over whether the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown will face charges.

On Friday, a network of clergy called Metropolitan Congregations United announced its plans to establish safe places in churches and houses of worship when the decision is announced.

Dietra Wise Baker of Liberation Christian Church said the sanctuaries will be set up near protest "hot spots," including the Ferguson Police Department, the Shaw neighborhood, and Clayton. They’ll establish additional spaces if needed.

“Those sanctuary spaces are being stocked with supplies and food for those who will be protesting in the streets, to come and find refuge and safety, if that becomes necessary,” Wise Baker said.

Wise Baker said members of MCU’s United Clergy Caucus will continue their presence at the protests.

“Around some of these issues, we haven’t been as vocal as we need to be,” Wise Baker said. “Part of us being out there is we’re saying we’re sorry. Not just in our words but in actually showing up for young people and showing up for black and brown bodies in our community in visible ways.”

Protesters held two “Direct Action Trainings” over the weekend at Greater St. Mark’s Church in Dellwood, pulling in more than a hundred people for each session.

“We know people are going to be out in the street protesting, regardless of whatever this grand jury decision is. We want that action to be as organized and effective as possible,” said Julia Ho of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.

Many components of the preparations are intended to keep people safe. Protestors are taught to diffuse tense situations, and identify people who may cause harm. There are also organized groups of medics, legal observers and Cop-Watchers, who are given portable video cameras to document the action.

“We want to minimize violence and de-escalate violence without de-escalating action. We don’t think people should be staying in their homes during this time because they’re afraid to go out in the streets,” Ho said.

Area police departments are making their own preparations as well. According to an equipment list breakdown provided by St. Louis County Police, the department has spent $122,668.96 to purchase additional protective gear, uniform items, and to replenish tactical stock including pepper balls, sock rounds and CS (tear) gas canisters.

An additional $50,000 has been set aside to repair police vehicles; county police spokesperson Brian Schellman said two additional vehicles were totaled during the protests, and will be replaced.