'Outrageous': Ferguson Organizers say State of Emergency Violates Laws, Thwarts Civil Liberties

In the wake of Governor Jay Nixon’s Monday afternoon declaration of a state of emergency in Missouri, activists and civil rights groups are speaking out against a move they say threatens the civil rights of protesters on the ground in Ferguson.

Nixon’s announcement, which came ahead of the grand jury’s decision in the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, is “both premature in its application and presumptuous in [its] intention to the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators who have embraced their Constitutional right to protest,” said NAACP president William Brooks.

Anthony Gray, one of the lawyers for Brown’s family, told CNN that Nixon was “preparing for war and not necessarily for peace.”

“Sometimes you can push people into behaving a certain way just by preparing for just that kind of a reaction,” Gray said.

“Governor Nixon’s decision to declare a state of emergency without evidence of violence or danger only threatens to stir up tensions and denigrate the peaceful efforts of countless non-violent activists,” Brooks said.

Hands Up United organizer Tory Russell noted on Twitter that Nixon does not have the authority to declare a preemptive state of emergency, as Missouri law mandates that a disaster of “major proportions” must have actually taken place before such a declaration can be made. Russell quoted a state General Assembly statute that reads, “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[.]”

Lou Downey, an organizer with Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN), told Common Dreams that Nixon’s “state of emergency—mobilizing the National Guard and authorizing violent suppression of protest—is outrageous, illegitimate, and breaking his own laws.”

“Nixon offers the public lies about ‘protecting free speech’ and steps to peaceful change, combined with the reality of unleashing National Guards, rubber bullets and toxic gas on protesters,” Downey continued. “Be clear, when Nixon says violence won’t be tolerated, he doesn’t mean violence by authorities against people.”

Nixon’s declaration on Monday seems to contradict statements he made after lifting a previous state of emergency he ordered during the first round of protests in August.