(New York, NY)–Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s executive order declaring an official state of emergency in the state of Missouri and activating the National Guard is not only heavy-handed and inflammatory, but also another example of this administration’s oppressive tactics against peaceful protests.
The death of Michael Brown has ignited deep passion and emotion. Yet, since the immediate aftermath there have been peaceful protests in Ferguson – even while the local police department has engaged in overwrought, often unconstitutional, and overly-militarized responses. A preemptive state of emergency after months of peaceful protests demonstrates misguided judgment and leadership from Governor Nixon – at a time when these qualities are most needed. Governor Nixon’s concern with “violence and damage” from the protesters is misplaced; he should be more concerned about violence from the police and further damage to community relations with the citizens of Ferguson.
Rather than prioritizing a fair, transparent grand jury process and protecting the rights of protesters, Governor Nixon is instead anticipating the worst case scenario, reflecting an unjustified mistrust of the Ferguson community. Sadly, this order seems to operate from the same false presumption of criminality that so often attaches to African Americans and feeds the excessive force and brutality by police.
Governor Nixon’s action is even more concerning given that most preemptive declarations of a state of emergency are made in anticipation of a natural disaster or severe weather event. In 2014, governors from New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama issued state of emergencies in anticipation of severe snowstorms. On the other hand, in the lead-up to the George Zimmerman verdict, Governor Rick Scott did not issue a state of emergency and peaceful protests ensued after a “not guilty” verdict. Unlike a natural disaster that can be predicted, the assumption that protestors will become violent is premature and not informed by any meaningful precedent.
We also question the legality of this action. According to Missouri state law Chapter 44-100.1(1), “The existence of an emergency may be proclaimed by the governor or by resolution of the legislature, if the governor in his proclamation, or the legislature in its resolution, finds that a natural or man-made disaster of major proportions has actually occurred within this state, and that the safety and welfare of the inhabitants of this state require an invocation of the provisions of this section.” The mere announcement of an impending grand jury decision does not rise to the level of necessary preparedness outlined in this law.
We call on Governor Nixon to lift the state of emergency in Ferguson and to work with leadership on the ground to ensure that human and civil rights are protected. The community has demonstrated the capacity to protest within the boundaries of the law afforded by the Constitution. It is incumbent on Missouri law enforcement to serve and protect the community, and we expect that the deployment of law enforcement personnel will be made with that spirit and responsibility in mind.