Constitutional Law

Civil rights lawyers head to Ferguson as grand jury decision in police slaying of unarmed teen looms

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Lawyers from around the country are headed to Ferguson, Missouri, in order to be on hand to help out if police and citizens clash after a grand jury decision is announced.

The looming decision, which could come at any time, concerns the controversial Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by white police officer Darren Wilson.

Meanwhile, as the country awaits news of the decision, traffic is down in Ferguson and in the county seat of Clayton. Police barricades, increased security at a number of businesses and concern about reaction to the grand jury ruling have keep people off the streets, according to the New York Times (reg. req.) and Reuters. Some nearby schools have closed early for the Thanksgiving holiday or are considering doing so.

Among attorneys already on hand in Ferguson is executive director Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said 280 lawyers and law students have signed on, so far, to provide volunteer help to protect the civil rights of protesters, according to a Tribune wire services story published by the Baltimore Sun.

“We are in a crisis situation, and we are here to ensure police let people voice their anger and frustration and don’t crack down on protesters as hooligans,” said Warren.

In addition to advising protesters, attorneys will be filing suit on their behalf, said St. Louis University law professor Justin Hansford.

Also on hand are the Missouri Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Lawyers Guild.

The Missouri governor earlier declared a state of emergency to help organize a potential multi-agency police response, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has asked for police restraint.

Attorney Benjamin Crump represents the Brown family and wonders why the St. Louis County prosecutor didn’t simply charge Wilson at the outset.

“In my almost 20 years of practicing law I’ve never seen a process like this where you don’t have the prosecutor recommending any charges to a grand jury that he’s convened and you don’t have any direction,” he told the Times. “It just boggles the mind that he thinks this is fair.”

Related coverage: “State of emergency in Missouri as grand jury mulls slaying of black teen in Ferguson” “Are police in Ferguson violating the Constitution?” “Ginsburg: Ferguson turmoil illustrates ‘real racial problem’ in America”

Bloomberg View: “Ferguson Needs Eric Holder”

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