TIME Education

Inside Detroit’s Plan to Woo Middle-Class Parents to Its Public Schools

Detroit Public School
Detroit Public Schools has closed more than 80 schools due to severe drops in enrollment. Sarah Butrymowicz—Hechinger Report

A central office war room and customer-service tips from Target

Dara Hill diligently scribbled notes as the principal of Detroit’s Nichols Elementary-Middle School led her and several of her neighbors on a tour of the school. A room for special education students was brimming with stuffed animals, but the hallways were sparsely decorated. Work displayed in the kindergarten classroom was charming and developmentally appropriate. But why were there six students sitting to the side during gym class?

Hill has two more years before she has to pick a school for her four-year-old daughter, but she and her husband are starting their search now because she is overwhelmed by the number of options in Detroit, and underwhelmed by the quality of many of them. To help with the decision, Hill joined The Best Classroom Project, a Facebook group formed to help parents navigate Detroit’s large and under-resourced school system. Since beginning in 2013, the group has grown to more than 250 parents, a mostly middle and upper-middle class mix of life-long residents and recent transplants. Several of them care about sending their children to public schools. And they are precisely the type of people Detroit school officials need to court as the city claws its way back from bankruptcy.

Thirteen years ago, Detroit’s school system had 200,000 students. Today, it has less than 50,000. It’s saddled with a $127 million deficit and its students perform well below the rest of the state. In the 2013-14 school year, for instance, just 14.6% of Detroit third-graders and 7% of city 11th-graders passed the state math test, according to Michigan education data. And graduation rates also lag. Sixty-five percent of students graduated from Detroit public schools in four years in 2012-13. The state average is 77%.

Such numbers make it tough to convince parents like Hill, a professor of education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, to commit to the city’s public schools. A statewide school choice system allows students in Detroit to attend any school in the district or pick from dozens of charter schools, but it also lets them apply to suburban schools. And many families with the means choose to bypass the system entirely and send their children to area private schools.

Keeping middle class families in the Detroit school system is particularly important because there are only so many of them. About 38% of Detroit households earn more than $35,000 compared to 56% of households across America, according to 2012 American Community Survey figures published by the Census Bureau. For the city to grow its tax base, the schools need to improve. But to significantly improve, the school system needs more students – and the money that comes with them.

“We recognize we’re a central anchor to the city,” says Roderick Brown, the district’s chief strategy officer and the man charged with finding ways to convince more families to pick the public school system. “Our success is tied to the success of the city.”

The War Room

Hill should be an easy mark for the school district. The daughter of German and Jamaican immigrants, she graduated from Detroit Public Schools in the 1980s and fondly remembers a time when black and white students would walk together to the Detroit Public Library after middle school. She met her husband in high school and stayed in the city after graduating, teaching first in the city and then in a nearby suburb.

She watched as Detroit continued a decline that began in the 1960s. And the city’s decades of struggle have been intertwined with those of the school system. Detroit Public Schools was first placed under state control in 1999 and then again in 2009 as test scores continued to falter. The district’s enrollment has fallen to 49,800 students as families moved or opted for charters that promised — but didn’t always deliver — better results. Nearly 40,000 students in the city now attend charter schools. Detroit Public Schools has shuttered more than 80 schools and the state has taken over 15 of the lowest performers in the past 5 years.

On top of that, in May, the district missed the deadline for applying for about $4 million in federal Head Start money because of technical problems. Officials said they would find money elsewhere to offer preschool to all students this school year, not just low-income ones, but to Hill, the incident is indicative of larger administrative problems. “There are things going on that are really good at many of the school levels, but as a district, it’s like, ‘Oh get it together,’” she said. “It just makes you wonder.”

The process of reassuring her begins in a conference room in the school system’s downtown headquarters that has been turned into a campaign-style war room. A translated quote from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” hangs on one wall, next to a poster titled., “THE QUESTION: How shall DPS compete and win the marketplace?” The answer: “Empowered DPS employee’s operating via synchronized, lean agile and leveraged work efforts.”

The business jargon is evidence of Brown’s time at General Motors, where he was a manager of strategic facilities planning at the nation’s largest automaker. He’s brought more than the lingo with him to DPS. Brown thinks in terms of markets and supply chains, and argues that along with improving academics, Detroit Public Schools also must improve the overall customer experience for students and parents. That’s why district officials invited Target to train school office workers in customer service. Among the tricks: smile when answering the phone to sound friendlier. “We didn’t do the best job of serving our existing customer base,” Brown says.

The effort to change that started in 2009, when then-Emergency Manager Robert Bobb launched an “I’m in” campaign encouraging families to enroll in Detroit Public Schools. Since then, improvements such as universal pre-kindergarten and increased test scores, have been advertised with flyers, open houses and old-fashioned door-knocking.

“You can’t win this on the defensive,” says Steve Wasko, the district’s assistant superintendent for community relations. “The only way to survive and thrive is to be on the offensive.”

The first step was trying to ensure basics like making schools safe. District officials gathered community volunteers to walk with children to school and are working with the city’s lighting authority to get broken streetlights near schools replaced before all of the other busted ones in town. And they designated 20 schools as community hubs, to be open 12 hours a day as resource-centers for parents.

The district has also launched new academic programs, including the three-year-old Benjamin Carson High School of Medicine and Technology, named for the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who attended Detroit public schools. Many students there said they returned to the district from charter schools because they were attracted by Carson’s small size and focus on science. Yet even Carson has struggled. In the spring, in the school’s first year of state testing, only 9% of 11th-graders passed the state math test and just 1% passed the science exam. They fared better in reading and writing, with about 40% considered proficient.

Similarly, music or art is now taught at every elementary school, but many schools can’t afford to offer both.

But there has been progress. Last fall, enrollment barely dipped after a more than a decade in which it dropped by about 10% every year. Daily attendance is up to 86%, which is meaningful for a system that in 2011 had to return more than $4 million in state funding for having an average daily attendance rate below 75%. And some schools have begun to make gains on state tests that outpace the rate of improvement in the rest of the state.

Uphill Battle

Three weeks before Hill and her peers observed classes at Nichols, a group of volunteers with the nonprofit group Excellent Schools Detroit wandered around two pre-kindergarten classrooms at Bow Elementary School in a heavily blighted neighborhood in the Northwest of the city. In one room, a handful of children gathered around an iPad, while another group paraded through the classroom playing tambourines and wooden blocks. The volunteers made careful notes as the lights flickered. The day before, the power had gone out entirely. (Some schools in Detroit lost as many as 13 days of school last year because of power outages caused by the city’s outdated electrical grid.)

Bow, where 86% of students receive free or discounted lunch, is emblematic of the obstacles DPS faces as it attempts to shed its poor reputation. The school was one of 29 to receive a D this year in the influential rankings published by Excellent Schools Detroit. Only one K-8 Detroit Public School got an A.

For parents in the neighborhood, with few resources to get their children to schools miles away or little knowledge of how to navigate the school-choice process, the only other option is a similarly low-performing K-8 charter school across the street, which Bow’s former principal, Ernestine Woodward says has been drawing away students for years. Last summer staff from Bow knocked on every door in the neighborhood trying to get families back.

The school is doing the best it can with the resources it has, says Woodward, who retired at the end of last year. There’s not nearly enough money for the technology she would have liked, nor for social workers and other services to meet the needs of her students. But they do have afterschool and arts programs and make an effort to get parents into the school whenever possible.

Yet with a reputation for poor performance, it’s a school that Hill would never consider. And Nichols is out of the running, too, even though it should have been a good option. Nichols typically performs at or slightly above average on state tests. And it’s a five-minute walk from Hill’s home in Indian Village, one of the few neighborhoods that look untouched by Detroit’s downturn. But Hill found the class sizes were too large, and she didn’t like that the English curriculum required teachers to follow a script. She’s now leaning toward sending her daughter to a private school, underscoring how difficult it will be for Brown and DPS to convince parents like her.

“Can the public schools really appeal to us?” she says. “I don’t know that they have the resources or the ability to do that right now.”

This story was produced by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME States

Thrift Store Accused of Pocketing $1 Million Meant for Charities

The Minnesota attorney general faulted both the chain of thrift stores and the numerous linked charities for the alleged impropriety

A Seattle-area based chain of thrift stores may have pocketed more than $1 million designated for charities.

Minnesota’s attorney general, Lori Swanson, has accused Savers Thrift Stores of putting almost all the donations it collected from customers into its own coffers, rather than forwarding the sums to the charities with which it had contracts, including Vietnam Veterans of America, The New York Times reports.

Swanson also blamed the charities for failing to properly oversee their relationship with Savers, citing the organizations’ responsibility to be vigilant and catch such alleged duplicitousness.

Savers, which operates more than 300 stores in more than two dozen states, said in an email to the New York Times that the company “remains dedicated to working openly, honestly and transparently with all of our nonprofit partners.”

One of the charities that have contracts with Savers also reiterated its commitment to integrity and told the Times that its relationship with the thrift store was under review.

Minnesota has given Savers and the charities 45 days to propose a solution, after which time Swanson could bring civil suits against them. The matter has also been referred to attorneys general in other states.

Read more at the New York Times

TIME Crime

Toy Guns Create Deadly Problems for Police

This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice, 12.
This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice, 12. AP

A 12-year-old was killed by Cleveland police after they mistook his novelty gun for a real one in a public park

It’s a tragic story that is all too familiar. This one began on Nov. 22, when a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice was playing in a Cleveland park and waving what appeared to be a weapon. Someone called the police and reported that “a guy with a gun was pointing it at people,” but noted that the gun was “probably fake.” According to local news reports, some of that information may not have been passed on to the officers who were dispatched to the scene, who had been told to respond to “a male with a gun threatening people.”

Here’s what happened next, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

They responded and saw the boy pick up what they thought was a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Officers drew their weapons and told the boy to raise his hands. Instead, he lifted his shirt and reached for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. He pulled out the gun, and the officer opened fire, shooting twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Rice died from the officers’ shots. It turns out what he had in his waistband was a BB-type novelty gun with the orange safety cap removed. The Cleveland police department, which said the toy was “indistinguishable” from a real gun, according to the New York Times, is investigating the shooting. The officers who responded have been put on administrative leave.

Rice’s death is the most recent example of what can happen when police mistake a play weapon for a real firearm. Last year, police officers in Santa Rosa, Calif. fatally shot a 13-year-old named Andy Lopez while he walking to a friend’s house — carrying what appeared to be an AK-47 assault rifle, but which was actually an airsoft gun that didn’t have the legally required orange marker. Lopez’ death, which led to several protests months after his death, helped gather support for a new law that changed how airsoft and BB guns are regulated in California, requiring that their entire exterior surface be painted a bright color or feature salient fluorescent strips.

On Sunday, an Ohio lawmaker announced that she would introduce similar legislation in the wake of Rice’s death. “With Saturday’s deadly shooting of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, it is becoming crystal clear that we need this law in Ohio,” State Representative Alicia Reece said in a press release, “to prevent future deadly confrontations with someone who clearly presents little to no immediate threat or danger.”

Rice’s death comes just months after a 22-year-old was fatally shot in an Ohio Walmart when police mistook an air rifle he was holding for a deadly weapon. In 2012, Texas police fatally shot an eighth-grader who had a pellet gun that resembled a Glock. The year before, Miami police shot and killed a 57-year old man who had a realistic replica gun after getting 9-1-1 calls about the ostensible weapon.

The federal government doesn’t keep ongoing statistics on the trend but, in a 1990 paper funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police reported they had used or threatened to use force “in a confrontation where an imitation gun had been mistaken for a real firearm,” at a rate of about 200 incidents per year. The paper’s authors suggested this number was “significantly underreported.”

A series of toy gun-related deaths in the late 80s helped pass the federal amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Bob Dole, requiring all toy, “look-alike” or imitation firearms to have a bright orange plug or other salient marking. But manufacturers don’t always adhere to required standards and, as in Rice’s case, markings can be altered or removed. Part of the appeal of imitation guns for some buyers, too, is that they look and feel like the real thing. “Best part about this rifle is the recoil felt when firing the gun,” reads the description of one product on an airsoft company website. “Each shot is accompanied by a satisfying solid jolt.”

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Imitation Firearm Safety Act in September. “A toy should look like a toy and not a lethal weapon,” said State Senator Noreen Evans, a joint-author of the legislation who represents the Santa Rosa area. “Currently these copycat toys are manufactured to be virtually indistinguishable from real firearms. Toys should not get a child killed.” After news of Rice’s death over the weekend, another one of the bill’s authors, State Senator Kevin de Leon, said that he hopes other states follow suit: “The two recent tragedies in Ohio are unfortunate examples of a trend we will continue to see unless we change our laws to make imitation guns distinguishable from real firearms.”

Law enforcement officials stress that kids or adults who have imitation firearms may not grasp how much danger the play guns can put them in when members of the public or authorities see them. “We’re not trained to shoot people in the leg,” Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “If we pull that trigger, we feel our lives are in danger.”

Speaking to TIME after Lopez’ death, a former federal law enforcement officer said police often have to make decisions based on first impressions. “In a stressful situation where it’s a question of using deadly force, you are not going to be able to get close enough to give a detailed inspection,” says Jim Yurgealitis, a former agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, who worked the streets of Baltimore for more than a decade. “Officers have to make a decision in milliseconds and everybody can second guess it.”

TIME Crime

Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson Thanks Supporters After No Indictment

Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson thanked his supporters Monday night after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict him for the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. A statement issued by Wilson’s lawyers said he “followed his training and followed the law” when he opened fire on the 18-year-old during an Aug. 9 confrontation in the Missouri city.

“We recognize that many people will want to second-guess the grand jury’s decision,” the lawyers said in a statement, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We would encourage anyone who wants to express an opinion do so in a respectful and peaceful manner …”

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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TIME White House

Obama on Ferguson Grand-Jury Decision: ‘This Is an Issue for America’

President Obama made a statement after the grand-jury announcement Monday evening

President Barack Obama appealed for calm Monday evening after the announcement that a grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown after an encounter in August.

Speaking from the White House about an hour after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the long-awaited decision involving the officer, Darren Wilson, Obama called for the incident to spark a larger discussion of race issues in America.

“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation,” he said. “In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.”

Obama urged all sides to show restraint, keeping in line with the Brown family’s wishes. “There’s inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it’ll make for good TV,” he said, while also asking law-enforcement officials to “show care and restraint” in dealing with peaceful protesters in Ferguson and around the country.

As he spoke, television news networks aired split-screen video footage of police deploying tear gas and smoke grenades at demonstrators, a small number of whom turned violent soon after the decision was announced.

Obama cautiously avoided wading into the substance of the grand jury’s decision. “We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said. “It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be a subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America.”

Brown’s death and the subsequent protests in the St. Louis suburb captured national attention this summer, prompting multiple presidential statements that requested calm. At the time, Obama also ordered the Department of Justice to carry out an independent investigation of the incident, which is ongoing.

The President has historically tiptoed around discussing the issue of race, but has gradually become more vocal since the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012. That includes launching the My Brother’s Keeper initiative last year to help young men of color. He has also deployed outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder to work with law enforcement in Ferguson and elsewhere to help ease tensions.

Obama held out the possibility in his remarks that he might visit Ferguson, but no trip is expected until the situation in the city calms down.

TIME Crime

Watch Live: Obama Addresses Ferguson Grand Jury’s Decision Not to Indict Darren Wilson

Statement comes after St. Louis County prosecutor announced decision against indictment

President Barack Obama makes a statement from the White House in the wake of the announcement Monday evening that a grand jury decided against indicting Ferguson, Mo., cop Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Erupts Again After Cop Cleared in Killing

Peaceful protests gave way to violence in the St. Louis suburb after the grand jury didn't charge Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown

The calls, overwhelmingly, were for peace. But the result was anything but.

A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, after an encounter in the St. Louis suburb on Aug. 9. The decision, announced Monday evening, means Wilson will not face criminal charges in a case that ignited a national debate about race, privilege and policing in America.

The announcement immediately revived the frustration of protesters who filled the streets of Ferguson for weeks this summer, leading to a renewed wave of clashes with riot gear-clad police. As the news spread, demonstrators blocked the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department, chanting obscenities and throwing objects at officers.

As the night wore on, the demonstrations erupted into violence. In an echo of the worst of the earlier unrest, businesses were set on fire and looted and law enforcement fired smoke bombs and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the angry crowds. The sting from the chemical hung in the air for blocks, and the sidewalks and parking lots near the Ferguson Police Department were filled with people washing out burning eyes and vomiting in gutters.

It was precisely the response many feared but never wanted. The days leading up to the decision were a drumbeat of pleas for peace, with clergy, local residents and even President Obama urging crowds to channel their anger into something more productive. The Brown family echoed those calls in a statement after the decision. “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” the statement said. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”

Protests spread to cities across the U.S. late Monday, with thousands rallying in cities from New York to Los Angeles. Demonstrators in Oakland, Calif. flowed onto the westbound lanes of Interstate 580, temporarily blocking traffic, but the majority of protests outside of the St. Louis area remained mostly peaceful.

Speaking from the White House about an hour after Wilson’s fate was made public, the President said he hoped the incident could force the nation to address the larger sense of mistrust between African-Americans and police.

“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation,” he said. “In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.”

Obama, too, called for a peaceful response, yet as he spoke television news networks aired split-screen footage of police deploying tear gas and smoke grenades at demonstrators.

The President’s wishes went unheeded, at least in the immediate aftermath. That the grand jury’s decision was revealed after dark surely didn’t help.

In a lengthy news conference announcing the grand jury’s decision, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch painstakingly described the events leading up to Brown’s death. The grand jury, he said, heard contradictory testimony from eyewitnesses, some of whom changed their stories to reflect the evidence. He later released thousands of pages of documents reviewed by the grand jury including photos of Wilson taken at a hospital after the shooting that appear to show bruising to his neck and face.

“As tragic as this is, it was a not a crime,” McCulloch said.

Preparing for the Worst

Even before the decision was announced, police had gone to great lengths to prepare for protestors’ frustration to spill over. City, county and state officers, as well as National Guard, were marshaled under a unified command as part of a state of emergency that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon imposed in advance on Nov. 17, citing “the possibility of expanded unrest.” The atmosphere has been so charged that many area schools closed early for Thanksgiving break and Nixon reiterated his call for calm on Monday ahead of the grand jury’s announcement.

The preparations on both sides fed a sense that the first official finding in Brown’s death would inevitably generate another occasion for talking past one another, and perhaps more violence. Far from being resolved, the mistrust that marked the largely spontaneous original protests — characterized by raised arms and chants of “Don’t shoot” — had not abated. Nor had the reality that propelled Ferguson onto the national stage: the unwelcome attention African Americans routinely receive from police, and disproportionate treatment from the justice system as a whole.

In that realm, the details of the Brown case are less significant than the broader experience of many black Americans any time they encounter a uniformed officer. Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in September that, though he served as the nation’s top law-enforcement official, as an African-American man who has been searched unnecessarily by police, “I also carry with me the mistrust that some citizens harbor for those who wear the badge.”

In Ferguson, where the population is two-thirds black, the situation was exacerbated by the composition of a police department that had only four African Americans on a force of 53. When protests broke out, the heavy-duty military gear officers donned to confront them did nothing to diminish the impression of antagonism between police and public. Much of that armor was left over from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and distributed by the Pentagon to local law-enforcement departments. The battle gear did little to serve a police force that, like many in the U.S., is seen by minorities “as trying to dominate rather than serve and protect,” in the phrase of Yale Law School Professor Tom Tyler, an expert on law enforcement and public trust.

“This is more than Michael Brown,” area resident Rick Canamore, 50, said as he protested in front of the Ferguson police headquarters. Brown’s death “tipped the pot over, but this has been boiling for years.”

Two federal investigations are still pending. The FBI is investigating whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights. Separately, the Justice Department is examining the civil rights record of the Ferguson Police Department as a whole. And Brown’s family could still file a civil wrongful-death lawsuit.

After the decision, Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated that the federal civil rights investigation is distinct from the grand jury proceedings. “Though we have shared information with local prosecutors during the course of our investigation, the federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now,” Holder said in a statement. “Even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence. And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions.”

An Unusual Grand Jury Proceeding

But the fraught months following Brown’s death have been focused on the grand jury’s finding, which was both expected and atypical. Expected because a series of leaks in October revealed details that supported Wilson’s version of the encounter. These include medical reports of injuries to Wilson’s face, which officials have said occurred when Brown reached into the patrol vehicle and struck Wilson. Two shots were fired inside the vehicle, but Brown was killed after Wilson climbed out of the vehicle to pursue the 6-ft. 4-in., 289-lb. teen.

Though the leaks and a certain sense of fatalism had prepared protesters for the outcome, the grand jury’s finding is statistically rare. Ordinarily, almost every case that a prosecutor takes to a grand jury ends in indictment. At the federal level, of 42,140 grand jury investigations in 2012, only 56 targets escaped indictment, according to records provided to TIME by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Similar figures were not available for St. Louis County grand jury investigations.

Local officials emphasized that the grand jury examining the Ferguson case had unusual leeway — though that leeway may have served Wilson. The panel, which had already been seated at the time of the Brown’s death, was broadly representative of St. Louis County, with nine whites and three African Americans. It met weekly for three months, and was presented “absolutely everything” about the altercation, said St. Louis County chief prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch. The jury, which began hearing testimony on Aug. 20, reached its decision after two days of deliberations.

That meant it heard from witnesses who said Brown appeared to have had his arms up in surrender at the moment he was shot, as well as from witnesses who supported Wilson’s account that the teen attacked him, and was charging at him head-down at the time of the shooting. One of Brown’s six bullet wounds was on the top of his head.

In another departure from normal proceedings, the grand jurors did not hear a prosecutor recommend a charge and present evidence supporting it. Instead, they were offered a range of possible charges, from murder to involuntary manslaughter.

In addition, Wilson took the unusual step of testifying, which seldom happens because defense attorneys are not allowed to be present in grand-jury proceedings. But it may well have helped the officer, inasmuch as the question before jurors was whether he had reason to fear for his life.

In short, the grand jury’s inquiry proceeded very much like a trial — but in secret, as grand jury proceedings always are. That sat poorly with attorneys representing Brown’s family. The prosecutor’s office took the unusual step of recording the sessions, and released them after the decision in hopes of achieving a measure of transparency after the fact.

That might not have been possible. “If there’s no true bill,” Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP told TIME in September, “as a community, we are going to be thrust right back into the same discontent and civil disobedience we experienced the first time around.”

Similar vows were heard from a variety of groups that descended on Ferguson in anticipation of the grand jury’s decision. The community remained on edge despite town meetings moderated by national figures, efforts at police reform such as wearable cameras, and sometimes fumbling attempts at reconciliation by local officials. In late September, Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson apologized for leaving Brown’s body in the street for about four hours – infuriating bystanders who saw it as yet another sign of disrespect. The chief’s apology was offered to Brown’s parents, but delivered in a video aired on CNN, and distributed by a public-relations firm. Another grievance came Monday afternoon, when attorneys for the Brown family say the parents first learned that the grand jury had reached a decision when they were asked about it by a reporter.

New incidents, meanwhile, kept emotions raw. In Ferguson, where some police officers wore wrist bands reading “I am Darren Wilson,” an officer was shot in the arm while chasing two men who ran from him when he approached them on Sept. 27. And on Oct. 8, an 18-year-old African American was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer after allegedly firing a stolen gun at him.

The protests that began the night Brown’s lifeless body fell onto Canfield Drive never really stopped. Mostly peaceful demonstrations continued day and night over the weekend before the grand-jury announcement, the rowdiness growing the later it got. A dozen people were arrested in a four-day period ending Sunday. The weather helped police, with cold and continuous rain causing protesters to disperse on several occasions, according to the St. Louis County Police Department spokesman Brian Schellman.

The ongoing protests have cast a pall over virtually every corner of the community. Area businesses report sales down as much as 80%. That many decided to board their windows as a preventative measure ahead of the grand-jury decision kept even more shoppers away. Donations to local religious groups and nonprofit organizations have been sluggish. A local food pantry’s stock is low because “people don’t want to come into the area,” says Jason Bryant, a local pastor.

For many local residents eager to see Brown’s death lead to something positive, the fallout from the grand jury’s decision will only make matters worse. “Police have hurt our people for years, for decades,” says Cassidy Jones, 42. “But this is not the answer. This is anger making more anger. It’s not good.”

— Kristina Sauerwein reported from Ferguson, Mo. With additional reporting by Alex Altman and Zeke J. Miller / Washington, D.C.; Dan Kedmey / New York City; and Katy Steinmetz/San Francisco

Read next: Ferguson Is the Wrong Tragedy to Wake America Up

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TIME Crime

Watch Live: Prosecutor Announces Grand Jury’s Decision in Michael Brown Death

August shooting death in Ferguson, Mo., sparked weeks of violent protests

A St. Louis County prosecutor is announcing whether a grand jury has charged Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the August shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Watch the announcement live above.

TIME Health Care

VA Ousts Hospital Chief in Phoenix Scandal

As the Veterans Affairs department continues its crackdown in the wake of a nationwide scandal over long wait times

(WASHINGTON) — The head of the troubled Phoenix veterans’ hospital was fired Monday as the Veterans Affairs Department continued its crackdown on wrongdoing in the wake of a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up the delays.

Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, was ousted nearly seven months after she and two high-ranking officials were placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into allegations that 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment at the hospital. Helman had led the giant Phoenix facility, which treats more than 80,000 veterans a year, since February 2012.

The Phoenix hospital was at the center of the wait-time scandal, which led to the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and a new, $16 billion law overhauling the labyrinthine veterans’ health care system.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Helman’s dismissal underscores the agency’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to high-quality, timely care.

An investigation by the VA’s office of inspector general found that workers at the Phoenix VA hospital falsified waiting lists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care. At least 40 patients died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix, the report said, but officials could not “conclusively assert” that delays in care caused the deaths.

About 1,700 veterans in need of care were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” after being kept off the official waiting list in Phoenix, the IG’s office said.

“Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and VA will not tolerate it,” McDonald said in a statement late Monday. “We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first.”

Helman is the fifth senior executive fired or forced to resign in recent weeks in response to the wait-time scandal.

Helman did not immediately respond to telephone messages Monday from The Associated Press.

Helman, who has worked at the VA since 1990, has been on paid leave since May 1, shortly after a former clinic director at the Phoenix site alleged that up to 40 patients may have died because of delays in care and that the hospital kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide the treatment delays.

Dr. Samuel Foote, who had worked for the Phoenix VA for more than 20 years before retiring last December, brought the allegations to light and says supervisors ignored his complaints for months.

Foote called Helman’s dismissal “a good first step,” but said the VA still needs to show it is serious about changing its culture. “I think there are a lot of others who need to follow her out the door,” he said Monday.

In an interview with the AP in May, hours before being placed on administrative leave, Helman denied any knowledge of a secret list and said she had found no evidence of patient deaths due to delayed care.

Helman told the AP that she takes her job seriously and was personally offended by the claims of misconduct. “I have never wavered from the ethical standards that I have held my entire career, and I will continue to give these veterans what they deserve, which is the best health care,” Helman said.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said Monday that firing Helman was the right decision and long overdue, noting that the director has been paid more than $90,000 since being placed on administrative leave. Sinema called that “a completely unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars that should instead go to providing care for veterans.”

Helman’s dismissal “finally sends the message to our veterans and VA employees that misconduct and mismanagement will not be tolerated,” said Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

“The VA has a long way to go to win back veterans’ trust, but today’s action represents a positive step in the right direction,” the senators said.

Glenn Grippen, a longtime VA administrator who retired in 2011, has been named interim director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

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Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff in Phoenix contributed to this story.

TIME Crime

Rallies Planned Across U.S. Before Ferguson Decision

US-CRIME-POLICE-RACISM-PROTEST
Demonstrators attend a protest in anticipation of the grand jury decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown on Nov. 24, 2014, in New York. Kena Betancur—AFP/Getty Images

Grand jury decision in Michael Brown case expected Monday evening, 9 p.m. ET

Police departments in several major cities were bracing for large demonstrations as people across the country planned to hold protests even before they know whether a grand jury has indicted a white police officer who killed a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.

Activists from Los Angeles to New York scheduled marches and rallies to coincide with Monday evening’s expected announcement of the grand jury’s decision. The panel was considering whether Officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

The racially charged case has inflamed tensions and reignited debates over police-community relations in many cities. In Ferguson, the shooting led to nightly protests that sometimes turned violent, with demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails and police firing smoke canisters, tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Los Angeles, which was rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the department had reached out to the community and was ready to send more officers to the streets if needed.

“We believe the outreach we have done will ensure that people are not only able to protest if they so desire, but will protest in a lawful manner,” Beck said.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock urged protesters to be peaceful in that city, where a civil jury last month found deputies used excessive force in the death of a homeless street preacher. Clergy were planning a gathering at a church, and others scheduled a rally downtown.

At Cleveland’s Public Square, at least a dozen protesters held signs Monday afternoon and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” which has become a rallying cry since the Ferguson shooting. Their signs references police shootings that have shaken the community there, including Saturday’s fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had a fake gun at a Cleveland playground when officers confronted him.

Los Angeles Community activist Najee Ali said he met with police last week to discuss plans for a peaceful gathering in response to the Ferguson decision. The plans include having community members identify any “agitators” who may be inciting violence so officers can remove them from the crowd, he said.

“It was kind of unprecedented,” Ali said of the meeting. “We never collaborate with the LAPD. They do what they do, and we do what we do.”

But since violence erupted at the city’s rallies protesting the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, Ali said there was an effort to avoid repeat problems.

“We told them our plans of protest and we were demanding our First Amendment rights be protected,” Ali said. “They said they’re taking a hands-off approach,” but they’d be in the wings if outside agitators try to stir up violence in the crowds.

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Associated Press writers Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles, and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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