Governor Jay Nixon (D) has pulled local authorities off of control of security in Ferguson and put it in the hands of the Highway Patrol, after several nights of protests, some of which have turned violent, after the fatal shooting by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday.
Some protesters have fired guns, thrown firebombs and looted during the past few nights. Law enforcement have used tear gas, rubber bullets and sound cannons on protesters. Law enforcement have also been criticized for detaining protesters and some members of the media.
Nixon announced his decision after meeting with local civic and community leaders and law enforcement today.
“I think we all have been concerned about the vision that the world has seen about this region,” says Nixon, and I think we’re all about making sure that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region, appropriately.”
Some local officers will be available but the Patrol will be in charge, under the command of Captain Ron Johnson, a local native.
‘My boots are going to be on the ground’
“We’re going to go back and assess today and we’re going to start from today. We’re not going to look back on the past,” says Johnson. “When we talk about boots on the ground, my boots are going to be on the ground, and actually I plan on tonight myself walking to the Quik Trip that has been called ‘ground zero’ and meeting with the folks there myself, tonight.”
“We are going to have a different approach,” says Johnson, “the approach that we are in this together.”
Johnson refers to a convenience store that was looted and destroyed by fire Sunday night, and since has been where many protesters are gathering.
Nixon and Johnson were both asked whether authorities at the scene of protests would continue to appear in riot gear and to utilize large tactical vehicles, as they have in recent nights, causing Senator Claire McCaskill (D) to call for the situation to be “de-militarized.”
Johnson tells reporters authorities will, “look at our resources and make sure we’re not taking resources out there that we don’t need, but when we do need those resources they will still be here.”
Many continue to call for the release of the name of the officer that shot Brown. Ferguson police have not released the incident report with that name citing concerns for the officer’s safety and saying it fits with the policy of the St. Louis County Prosecutor not to release that name unless and until a charge is filed.
Nixon would not comment on state law regarding that incident report being a public document, but said of the release of the name, “The appropriate release of that name with the security around it if necessary to make sure that there’s not additional acts of violence be done as expeditiously as possible,” says Nixon. “There’s certainly in my view methods and abilities to do that … I think it would be an important milestone.”
We are going to make a change today
Johnson said he talked to students at Riverview Gardens High School Thursday afternoon, and after seeing one student with tears in her eyes, gave them his office address and asked each of them to write him a letter about how they feel and how the incident has impacted them. He says he will read those letters to the officers at the region’s Highway Patrol troop.
He says the security officer for the school later texted him.
“Those students went back to their class and told their friends that they believe we’re going to make a change today,” the officer told Johnson.
“And we are.”