Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson, Missouri. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Hoping to bring "a softer front" to the law enforcement
presence in Ferguson after five nights of clashes between
police and protesters, the Missouri State Highway Patrol will
take over directing security in the city, Missouri Governor
Jay Nixon has announced.
Security will be overseen by Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black
and said he grew up in the community and said "it means a lot
to me personally that we break this cycle of violence."
"Ferguson will not be defined as a community that was torn
apart by violence but will be known as a community that
pulled together to overcome it," Nixon said at a news
The announcement was made hours after President Barack Obama
sought to calm the tense situation, saying that there was "no
excuse" for "excessive force" by police or for looting or
violence aimed at law enforcement. Obama said the police have
a responsibility to be "open and transparent" about the
events that led up to the fatal shooting of a black teenager
by a Ferguson police officer Saturday that spawned the
Nixon said earlier that he would change the tone in the St.
Louis suburb after the unrest and the Ferguson police chief
said he was also working to de-escalate tensions between
officers and demonstrators.
"What is happening now is not what any of us want," Chief
Thomas Jackson said at a press briefing, adding that officers
and community leaders are planning to better "facilitate"
demonstrators' right to rally.
Nixon did not reveal details about the changes, but assured
the crowd gathered at a community meeting that "you will see
a much better and much different tone" in the city. He said
the "vast, vast majority" of the demonstrations have been
peaceful and urged those in the city to use their energy in a
The comments from the governor and police chief came in
response to escalating clashes between law enforcement
officers and protesters since Saturday's police shooting of
Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old. After an
intense scene Wednesday night - which included the detention
of two journalists - top elected officials expressed alarm
over the heavy police response.
U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement
Thursday that he was "deeply concerned that the deployment of
military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message"
to the community and law enforcement "must seek to reduce
tension, not heighten them."
Holder also said Ferguson police had accepted the Justice
Department's offer of crowd-control help as it continues to
investigate the Brown shooting.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters Thursday that
although she backs the decision by law enforcement
authorities to not release details of the Brown case, the
strong police response to protests in Ferguson had become a
"I think the demilitarization of the response is going to
help a lot" to ease strife in the suburb, she said. When
asked about community tensions, she described the problems as
"a wound that's not going to heal overnight."
The ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit Thursday to obtain
copies of initial police reports regarding Brown's shooting
after St. Louis County police rejected the group's
open-records request for the incident report.
At the community meeting Thursday morning, dozens of
beleaguered residents and community leaders filled the pews
at the Christ the King United Church of Christ in neighboring
Florissant, and it didn't take long for the grievances to
Although they were upset over the shooting, community members
- especially the parents of young children - indicated their
primary concern had become the police response to the
demonstrations that followed.
Sierra Smith, 27, lives in the Canfield apartment complex not
far from where Brown was shot and where many of the worst
clashes with police have occurred. Speaking into a
microphone, she described how at night the police had blocked
the streets to the apartment complex, making it almost
impossible for residents to get in or out.
A neighbor had a baby three weeks ago, Smith said, and had
run out of formula and diapers for her newborn. The police
blocked them from going out for more.
"We get up to the top of the street and they tell us to turn
around," Smith said. "‘Go back where you came from.'
"If you go out, you better be wearing the armor of God,"
Others expressed disgust for white out-of-towners who were
seen lighting trash bins on fire and carrying around Molotov
cocktails. The Sunday looting and vandalism that shut down
neighborhood stores was also stopping residents from doing
Traci Blackmon, one of the organizers of the meeting, said,
"I got calls that people don't have toiletries. People don't
Tremaine Combs, 32, said fear had infected his 5-year-old son
in recent days.
As they were leaving a nearby Walgreens on Wednesday evening,
he said, his son spotted a police officer driving by. "He was
so terrified that he started crying," Combs said.
Combs said he came to Thursday's meeting because he didn't
want his son to grow up feeling like that.
On Wednesday night armored personnel carriers and officers
wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles had greeted
demonstrators. After ordering the crowd to disperse, officers
unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets, witnesses said.
Police sealed off the area that was the scene of vandalism
and looting Sunday night. At least 10 people were arrested.
One of them was St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, according
to a Twitter post by a friend of his, Liz Peinado. During the
unrest, French has posted videos on social media of protests
and the police presence on the streets. His arrest could not
be independently confirmed late Wednesday.
During the nighttime confrontation, protesters with shirts
wrapped around their faces held signs that read, "Hands up,
don't shoot," as police closed in on the crowd. The slogan
has been adopted by protesters because witnesses have said
Brown was running with his hands in the air when a police
officer shot him to death Saturday.
In live amateur video posted to social media, police could be
heard telling the group to leave the area or they would be
arrested. Clouds of tear gas were visible in the background.