Governor Jay Nixon directed the Missouri National Guard to begin leaving a St. Louis suburb where violence has ebbed after more than a week of protests following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat, called in the troops Aug. 18 after organized groups of protesters with firearms and gasoline bombs attacked police, and officers in riot gear unleashed tear gas in the streets. Violence has since subsided, police said.
“As we continue to see improvement, I have ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin a systematic process of withdrawing from the City of Ferguson,” Nixon said yesterday in a statement.
The killing of Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9 and subsequent images of police, backed by armored vehicles, leveling guns at demonstrators have made the city of 21,000 a symbol of racial inequality and heavy-handed law-enforcement. Ferguson is almost 70 percent black, yet all but one councilman and three of 53 police officers are white.
The violent protests have ebbed, with police arresting six people as of 2 a.m. yesterday compared with 47 in the previous 24 hours, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told reporters. Authorities “fired not a single bullet” and “there were no confrontations,” he said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday in Washington that he hopes “the relative calm that we witnessed overnight last night can be enduring.”
The nation’s top law-enforcement officer visited the St. Louis area on Aug. 20, meeting community leaders, FBI agents and Brown’s parents. A state grand jury that began considering evidence in Brown’s death that day won’t decide whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson until October “at the earliest,” a spokesman for the local prosecutor said.
The grand jury, which is presented testimony and other evidence by prosecutors, must decide whether to indict Wilson for the shooting and on what charge. Wilson, who is white, has been suspended with pay.
The panel was selected by a judge in May and is made up of nine whites and three blacks, said Edward Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch.
The grand jury represents a cross-section of county residents, both geographically and racially, Magee said. St. Louis County is 70 percent white.
Magee said the grand jury’s term, which would normally expire on Sept. 10, will be extended to hear the Ferguson case. And while the panel usually meets only on Wednesdays, it may convene on other days if jurors are available, he said.
At least nine jurors must agreement if an indictment is to be issued.
Holder met privately with Brown’s parents at the U.S. Attorney’s office in downtown St. Louis. Before the meeting, Brown’s mother viewed her son’s body at a local morgue for the first time since the shooting.
“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now,” Holder told students and more than 50 community leaders at St. Louis Community College, according to his office. “The issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it, and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.”
The highway patrol, appointed by the governor to take over security in the city, will coordinate the national guard’s departure, Nixon said. The highway patrol and county and city police will remain in place to respond to incidents.