October 21, 2014 / 6:11 PM / 5 years ago

Missouri governor forms commission to look at Ferguson unrest

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declares a state of emergency and curfew in response to looting the previous night in Ferguson, Missouri August 16, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) - Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said Tuesday he was setting up a special commission to examine the social and economic conditions in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson that have fed ongoing race-related protests following the police killing of an unarmed black teenager in August.

The St. Louis area has seen demonstrations almost daily since the Aug. 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. Thousands of people have participated in protests that at times have turned violent and at one point prompted the governor to call out the National Guard.

“Our streets cannot be battlefields,” Nixon said in a press conference announcing the formation of the commission. “If we do not act, and act now, the damage could be severe and long-lasting.”

The commission will be made up of leaders from business, education, public safety and religious communities as well as “ordinary citizens,” Nixon said. Its task will be to examine concerns that include poverty, education, governance and law enforcement, and offer recommendations for making the region “a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live,” Nixon said.

The commission is not charged with delving into Brown’s death, Nixon said. That responsibility remains with county prosecutors and federal officials looking into the case, he said.

The announcement comes a day after a Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed was arrested amid a protest outside the Ferguson police department and after other protesters staged a demonstration against police brutality outside the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence and considering charges against Wilson, who has not spoken publicly about the matter. Prosecutors have said a decision could come sometime in the next few weeks. Protesters want Wilson arrested immediately and have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Police officers involved in shootings on the job are rarely charged with crimes in the St. Louis area and officials have said they fear violent protests will erupt anew if the grand jury decides not to bring charges.

“This is a defining moment that will determine whether this place will be known as a region marred by racial division and unrest, or a region that pulled together to rise above and heal,” Nixon said at the press conference.

Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh

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