Governor Jay Nixon is defending his response to unrest in Ferguson in the days and weeks after Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson.
“I was there a lot earlier than some people said I was, and I was involved there a lot earlier than some people continue to say I was and the press continue to report,” Nixon told reporters Wednesday.
Critics have accused Nixon of not reacting quickly enough to mounting tension and outbreaks of violence, and for appearing to maintain a regular schedule including visits to the State Fair and a newly constructed high school that replaces one destroyed in the May 2011 Joplin tornado.
Nixon says he was monitoring the situation in Ferguson from the outset and was in contact with local officials.
“I was spending a great deal of time late at night either on the phone or in conferences or whatever about what was going on,” Nixon says. He says there was, initially, no reason for the state to intervene.
“This [crisis] began with a shooting in the street, and unfortunately in our state and our country that happens a lot,” Nixon tells reporters. “So your initial read on that sort of stuff is … that’s something that’s best handled and should be best handled at the most local of levels. When it began burgeoning up and we saw the level of potential problems that began to arise there not just in folks protesting but in the aggressiveness and what-not, then I acted.”
He says the decisions he made, such as to put the Highway Patrol in charge of security in Ferguson, could not be rushed.
“It is a significant order for a governor, any governor, to say that we are going to come in and that a state agency is going to be in charge of safety and security for a region,” says Nixon.
Pressed on the timing of his decision to put the Guard in command, Nixon told reporters, “The Patrol was involved from day one. The Patrol was there the entire time. Don’t carry on myths here.”
Nixon added, “I was at where this young man was shot very early in the process. Let’s not repeat things that aren’t true here and questions.”
Nixon came under intense criticism Wednesday, August 13, four nights after Brown was killed. That night, some protesters turned violent, reportedly throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, and police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and ear-piercing audio.
Critics on Twitter attacked Nixon, who was reported to be at a concert at the State Fair, accusing him of failing to lead. That night his office tweeted that he would skip the Fair the next day, including some traditional gubernatorial events like the Governor’s Ham Breakfast, and would instead head to North St. Louis County.
He said of the events in Ferguson that night, “When that became threatening and violent, that got my attention and I crashed my schedule and got over there.”
Nixon’s office has pointed out that prior to that night he had requested an independent federal investigation of the shooting on Monday, August 11 and had spoken to Ferguson community leaders on Tuesday, August 12.