Police departments in several major cities were bracing for large demonstrations as people across the country planned to hold protests even before they know whether a grand jury has indicted a white police officer who killed a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
Activists from Los Angeles to New York scheduled marches and rallies to coincide with Monday evening’s expected announcement of the grand jury’s decision. The panel was considering whether Officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The racially charged case has inflamed tensions and reignited debates over police-community relations in many cities. In Ferguson, the shooting led to nightly protests that sometimes turned violent, with demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails and police firing smoke canisters, tear gas and rubber bullets.
In Los Angeles, which was rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the department had reached out to the community and was ready to send more officers to the streets if needed.
“We believe the outreach we have done will ensure that people are not only able to protest if they so desire, but will protest in a lawful manner,” Beck said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock urged protesters to be peaceful in that city, where a civil jury last month found deputies used excessive force in the death of a homeless street preacher. Clergy were planning a gathering at a church, and others scheduled a rally downtown.
At Cleveland’s Public Square, at least a dozen protesters held signs Monday afternoon and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” which has become a rallying cry since the Ferguson shooting. Their signs references police shootings that have shaken the community there, including Saturday’s fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had a fake gun at a Cleveland playground when officers confronted him.
Los Angeles Community activist Najee Ali said he met with police last week to discuss plans for a peaceful gathering in response to the Ferguson decision. The plans include having community members identify any “agitators” who may be inciting violence so officers can remove them from the crowd, he said.
“It was kind of unprecedented,” Ali said of the meeting. “We never collaborate with the LAPD. They do what they do, and we do what we do.”
But since violence erupted at the city’s rallies protesting the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, Ali said there was an effort to avoid repeat problems.
“We told them our plans of protest and we were demanding our First Amendment rights be protected,” Ali said. “They said they’re taking a hands-off approach,” but they’d be in the wings if outside agitators try to stir up violence in the crowds.
Associated Press writers Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles, and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.