Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered state troopers to take over security in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and U.S. President Barack Obama made a plea for calm as protests raged after police fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.
Nixon said the multi-force policing would be led by Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who is black. Police and protesters are engaged in a standoff entering its sixth day in the wake of the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Police say the 18-year-old had fought the officer over his weapon, while Ferguson residents say Brown was shot while putting his hands up in surrender.
“We all have been concerned about the vision that the world has seen about this region,” Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat, said in a news briefing after meeting with area clergy at a church in Florissant. “We’re all about making sure that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests.”
U.S. Representative William Lacy Clay, a Democrat from St. Louis, who disclosed the governor’s plans earlier, said that he has been urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “take over the entire situation because we will not get justice for Michael Brown and his family and friends if the St. Louis County police and prosecutor have a say.”
Obama promised a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting.
“I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country,” Obama said in Edgartown, Massachusetts, where he is vacationing.
“Now’s the time for healing,” he said. “Now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now’s the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.”
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill urged local authorities to “de-militarize” the situation.
“This kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution,” McCaskill, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.”
The FBI on Aug. 11 opened an investigation into the Brown shooting, with Holder calling for a “fulsome review” by the Justice Department. Like McCaskill, Holder expressed concern about the military-style response of local police.
“I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message,” Holder said today in a statement. “At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities.”
He said the department is offering technical assistance to local authorities “to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force.”
Clay said federal and state authorities have waited too long to take control of the situation.
“They are relying on the St. Louis County authorities to do the right thing,” Clay said. “Now the governor realizes that they’re not going to do the right thing.”
About 2 a.m. today, a group of more than 50 police officers in full protective gear drove three black armored vehicles to the Ferguson police department. Officers pointed guns at the crowd and told everyone to disperse immediately or face arrest. Protesters, who raised their hands and dropped to their knees, later departed, with some shouting expletives at the police.
“This is police terrorism at its finest,” said Kyra Rayford, a 24-year-old from St. Louis who was waving a sign across the street from the police department. “They’ve been using unnecessary aggression and force. They’re violating our civil rights.”
The name of the officer involved in the shooting hasn’t been released.
Police officers in military-style regalia yesterday fired tear gas at groups of protesters, and reporters from the Washington Post and The Huffington Post were arrested.
Wesley Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote that he was handcuffed by officers in a McDonald’s restaurant after attempting to videotape them. Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were briefly detained, then released without charges, he wrote on the Washington Post’s website.
Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, said he was “appalled” at how reporters were being treated.
“There was absolutely no justification for his arrest,” Baron said in a statement.