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Local leaders, police chief hope Salisbury citizens don’t react in violence following Ferguson grand jury decision

Community leaders and Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins say whatever the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., they hope Salisbury citizens react peacefully.

It’s been three months since a grand jury first met to decide whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson broke the law during the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown. The officer shot and killed Brown after the 18-year-old was accused of stealing from a local convenience store.

Across the country, law enforcement has been bracing for the grand jury decision, which is expected at any time. Missouri officials anticipate demonstrations and possible violence. Brown’s death prompted weeks of protests and some looting from people in Ferguson over how the investigation was being conducted. 

“A lot of people see Ferguson as a microcosm of what could happen in areas around the country,” said local minister Anthony Smith.

He said there is a possibility of violence in Ferguson, but he prays none of that violence reaches Salisbury.

“I hope all the organizing will help bring about some kind of non-violence buffer,” he said.

Smith said he’s been following what’s been going on in Ferguson and has been in contact with friends who live in and around the area as well as members of a national ministry he’s apart of, Transform, which focuses on training Christian activists.

“When you are not allowed to give your pain a voice, that creates violence. But when you are allowed or given space for your pain to have a voice, that can create creative energy,” Smith said.

Smith said he hopes the outcome sparks more energy and fire to keep moving forward to effect change in the community.

Positive lessons

He said there is a possibility that what’s happening in Ferguson could happen in Salisbury, if certain dynamics don’t change. Smith noted that, as in Ferguson, there is a disproportion on the city council and in the police department. The local Ferguson police force is predominantly white in a majority black community.

Smith said less than 1 percent of business owners in Salisbury are African-American.

There are lessons that can be learned from Ferguson, Smith said.

He said one way is to find a way to incorporate local leaders at the decision-making level. At the institutional level, he said, there should be intentional training on cultural awareness.

Still waiting

Community activist Ken Hardin said he thinks it’s sad that the Ferguson shooting happened three months ago and the nation is still awaiting a decision.

“I think it adds fuel to the fire,” he said.

Hardin said Salisbury is one incident away from what’s happening in Ferguson happening here.

“People don’t know how to handle conflict, and people are afraid to have the conversation about race,” he said.

He admits everything isn’t a “race issue,” but “it’s there and we need to deal with it.”

He also hopes violence doesn’t occur in Salisbury following the Ferguson decision.

Hardin said he hopes there is calm in Ferguson and Salisbury.

“Violence doesn’t do anything. You can’t take your frustrations and manifest them in physical reactions. We can’t wait for things to happen for lessons to be learned,” he said.

Chief Collins said the department’s goal is to maintain public safety, but still safeguard protesters’ free-speech rights. He encourages people who choose to march or protest to go through the proper channels in order to do so.

A Salisbury city ordinance requires those who choose to gather through a march, demonstration or protest obtain a permit from the police department.

Collins said the way to keep protests peaceful and nonviolent is to conduct them within the guidelines of the city’s ordinance.

“We work quite diligently to have good relationships with our citizens,” he said.

“It’s crucial that folks remain calm, nonviolent and conduct themselves in a legal manner,” Collins said.

Collins said it would be premature to say there’s a need to worry at this point about reactions.

“It’s something that I don’t know will present a problem,” he said.

He has asked officers to “closely monitor the goings on in the community.”

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.



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