Police departments across the US are bracing for protests after a Philadelphia-area grand jury announced it would not charge two police officers over the shooting death of a black man.
During a four-day hearing that ended Tuesday, a grand jury agreed that plainclothes officers Daniel Hershman and Jesse Hartnett acted appropriately in the death of an unarmed 25-year-old, Terence Crutcher, who had his hands in the air and his car stalled out, according to evidence presented by the prosecuting attorney’s office.
After meeting for several hours in a closed session on Tuesday, the district attorney announced the decision on the grand jury’s findings.
Crutcher’s death stirred tensions from high school to the White House after he was shot on September 16 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The rally, in which more than 50 people were arrested, followed hours of peaceful protests.
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Officials in Tulsa, and across the country, say they expect civil unrest and disorder if police departments don’t find ways to change how they do business.
While no lives have been lost, demonstrators have protested about police violence in cities across the country since the grand jury decision, including in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington DC, New York City and Baltimore.
“If they don’t make change, civil disobedience might ensue,” Michael Manzo, a community activist in Chicago, said in an interview with the Guardian. “Everything happened so quickly in Ferguson. This could be similar if the authorities don’t make changes.”
Richard Berk, the police chief in Cincinnati, where 10 months ago the police officer Ray Tensing shot an unarmed Sam DuBose in the head, released an internal policy report on Tuesday with recommendations on how he could review use of force cases more quickly.
Police chiefs in both Philadelphia and Ferguson, for example, are working on writing policies and procedures to prevent police shootings, to better develop reports about those incidents and to discuss when police may open fire and why.
Brian Oliver, the police chief in Columbus, Ohio, said they will bring together a panel of officers and civilians to discuss the shootings.
The Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross Jr said police officers were prepared for any protests and said they were confident in the capabilities of the department’s camera system.
“Having it on a person’s body and in the car or on a phone or any kind of recording device is a guarantee,” Ross said. “So, if someone takes to the streets we can be completely assured that we’ll capture all that we need to.”
Philadelphia police said they would adopt local ordinances restricting the use of tasers. They also emphasized that officers would be allowed to shoot and kill, rather than tase, a fleeing suspect who threatened officers with a gun.
“Officers have the right to defend themselves if they feel they are being threatened with an immediate lethal weapon,” Philadelphia police said in a statement.
In Ferguson, city officials have imposed restrictions on when and where law enforcement officers may protest and said during a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday that “they are determined to remain calm”.
Officials said they have engaged in regular meetings with groups such as the NAACP and the Black Lawyers Association in an effort to develop strategies and make plans to prevent, respond to and deal with protesters.
“A dangerous breed of protestors has come out in the last few days and we need to prepare for their actions,” said the city’s director of public safety, Andre Baynes.
Baynes said he asked city department heads to help law enforcement plan the areas where protests would occur and to make sure the officers are properly trained.
In addition to city leaders in Ferguson, mayor James Knowles III of Dallas has spoken in defense of his city’s police department and said he would not release the names of officers who shot a black suspect and killed him.
The officers were shot on Saturday after the man robbed a gun store, according to police. Two officers – one white and one black – shot and killed 25-year-old Botham Jean on his own porch.
On Monday night, thousands of demonstrators packed downtown Dallas to protest the killing. There were at least six arrests.
The Dallas police chief said this week that police are encouraged by protesters’ peacefulness at the current time.