Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. expressed concerns privately this week to Missouri officials about their recent actions in advance of a grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case.
A top aide to Holder called the office of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon earlier this week to express Holder’s displeasure and “frustration” that the governor had declared a state of emergency at a news conference and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury decision in the Ferguson shooting, expected to be announced in the next few days, according to a Justice Department official.
“Instead of de-escalating the situation, the governor escalated it,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject. “He sent the wrong message. The tone of the press conference was counterproductive.”
A spokesman for Nixon declined to comment.
Senior Justice officials also told U.S. attorneys around the country on Tuesday to be in close touch with local police to prepare for any possible violence in their cities, should the grand jury decision not result in an indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9.
On Friday, Holder released a video, reminding potential demonstrators that “history shows that most successful movements adhere to nonviolence.”
“I ask all those who seek to lend their voice to important causes and discussions, and who seek to elevate these vital conversations, to do so in a way that respects the gravity of their subject matter,” Holder said in the video. “Peaceful protest has been a hallmark, and a legacy, of past movements for change, from patriotic women who demanded access to the franchise, to the civil rights pioneers who marched for equal rights and equal justice.”
In the video, Holder expresses sympathy with the protesters — although he did not use the word “Ferguson.”
“Of course, I recognize that progress will not come easily, and long-simmering tensions will not be cooled overnight,” Holder said. “These struggles go to the heart of who we are, and who we aspire to be, both as a nation and as a people — and it is clear that we have a great deal of important work still to do.”
St. Louis remained on edge Friday.
“The city is in a panic at this point ahead of the announcement,” said Brown family attorney Anthony Gray, who called a news conference to reiterate the family’s calls for peace. “They do not advocate violence, looting, riots.”
The county prosecutor’s office confirmed on Friday that the grand jury continued to meet, while state officials, attorneys for both Wilson and the Brown family, and community leaders signaled they believed an announcement was likely to come over the weekend.
“We expect a grand jury decision very shortly,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
The Jennings School District, one of several districts that serves students from Ferguson, announced it was cancelling classes on Monday and Tuesday. Other districts have provided students with take home materials and projects in case classes end up being cancelled early next week.
Wilson is unlikely to return to his job regardless of whether a grand jury decides to indict him, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Thursday.
“I don’t see it happening,” Jackson said in a brief interview.