Ferguson braces for grand jury decision in Michael Brown shooting

FERGUSON, Mo. -- A grand jury's decision on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, is expected within days or weeks.

No matter the outcome, Capt. Ron Johnson is determined to keep the peace.

Every time Johnson walks by the looted shell of the QuikTrip convenience store, he's reminded of the anger that has come to symbolize Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown's death.

"The destruction here symbolizes this community, and how fragile and crumbled things are here," Johnson says.

Johnson is one of the three highest-ranking officers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and grew up in this community. He was brought in to restore order after days of nightly clashes.

To some, the mostly white law enforcement response to the overwhelmingly black protesters seemed excessive. It's a message Johnson tried to give his officers when the Highway Patrol took over command in Ferguson.

"I tried to give a sense, we have to get out and let them know who we are, that the crossed hands have to come down and we have to have conversation," Johnson says.

What does he wish was done differently?

"I think if we had connected with the community early on, maybe this wouldn't have gone on as long," Johnson says.

So Johnson is trying to make up ground -- meeting with locals, including students, gang members and ministers, who are concerned about what will happen if a grand jury does not indict Wilson.

CBS News sat down with Pastor Robert White at his church with a group of others committed to maintaining peace in Ferguson.

"What plan do you have in place that is gonna protect our community?" White asked.

"There's gonna be a lot of angry young people that's pretty much not gonna listen to the system any more," 42-year-old Michael Johnson says. "Why should they?"

"We are getting prepared for war," says Ronardo Ward, 33. "And that's just crazy!"

"There's a lot of fear. A lot of people are afraid of what could happen," Capt. Johnson tells us. "In the end, this is gonna be the community we have to live in."

But Johnson says he doesn't see Ferguson as a powder keg ready to explode.

"I don't think it's going to be as bad as people want to make it out to be," Johnson says. "But I think there's some tough times ahead."

Tough times Johnson hopes police and the community will get through together.

Jonathan Blakely contributed to this story.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.