St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch Thursday night blasted the decision by Gov. Jay Nixon to replace St. Louis County Police control of the Ferguson situation with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch said. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”
McCulloch noted that no one was seriously injured in the effort led by County Police Chief Jon Belmar until the Highway Patrol took over security Thursday night.
“For Nixon to never talk to the commanders in the field and come in here and take this action is disgraceful,” McCulloch said.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I think what Nixon did may put a lot of people in danger.”
A half-dozen members of the New Black Panther political movement were out on West Florissant Avenue Thursday night as night fell. Not a police officer was in sight. The New Black Panthers directed traffic.
“If you want the police to stay away, somebody has to do it. Nobody is doing it,” said Jarren Brown, aka “Brother Genius,” as he signaled to cars, stopping some so others could turn on side streets, stopping others so some can turn off side streets.
The group, wearing all black and at least one with a small New Black Panthers pin on his lapel, worked up a sweat as they moved. They exuded a friendly but firm stance, urging the slowing, honking cars on West Florissant to move along.
A cheer went up as police departed the area near the Ferguson QuikTrip looted and burned during a night of unrest Sunday night.
Demonstrators remained on the sidewalk after the departure and did not attempt to block traffic on West Florissant Avenue. Motorists signaled their support for the protesters by honking their horns and the chant of “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” occasionally filled the air.
But the scene near the site where Michael Brown was gunned down last Saturday remained calm.
Paula Lotts of St. Louis, came to Ferguson Thursday night to support her three boys.
“It’s sad our children have to live like this,” she told a reporter. “We’re not scared of people in the community, we’re afraid of the police. The police stop our kids everywhere they go. Every black child is not doing wrong. Please don’t put our children in that category. It’s not a black-white thing – it’s a police thing.”
As many as 300 marchers made their way along West Florissant Avenue late Thursday afternoon in the most peaceful demonstration since the shooting death of Michael Brown five days ago.
Capt. Ronald Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol officer Gov. Jay Nixon placed in charge of the Ferguson situation Thursday afternoon led the procession.
Johnson marched in shirtsleeves – a stark contrast with the para-military uniforms that have become the symbol of the Ferguson police presence during nearly a week of unrest.
In an impromptu discussion with reporters, Johnson allowed that he has “a big dog in this fight.”
Johnson grew up nearby, close to the intersection of Halls Ferry and Chambers Roads.
“I occasionally go to Red’s Barbeque,” he said, giving a shout out to a popular Ferguson restaurant. “And I’ve had a few beers in this town, too.”
Well-wishers and residents handed the marchers bottles of water, pizza, homemade dishes and cookies as they passed.
“I’m out here hoping for peace for the protesters and the police,” said Bridgett Norise of Dellwood. “It’s nice to see no divisions. This is the most unity I’ve seen in years.”
Her friend, Regina Carter, agreed.
“It’s very nice to see white and black people marching together peacefully,” she said.
But the presence of Johnson was clearly the difference between Thursday and the four nights of turmoil that preceded it.
“I love this man so much,” said Angela Whitman of Berkeley. “He’s been here since the beginning,giving us encouragement and letting us know we’ll get through this.”
Marchers under Johnson’s eye picked up debris along the demonstration route – another sign that perhaps tensions are at at last easing in the troubled North County community.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has given police oversight of the Ferguson situation to the Missouri State Highway Patrol under the command of Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a St. Louis area native.
Nixon said the change in command will include a softening in “tone” and “amplitude” regarding protective force.
“Clearly you’ll see as the afternoon and evening starts, a little different picture,” Nixon said, adding, “We should all know there will be resources out there if things get difficult, that people will be safe.”
Nixon addressed questions from the press at the University of Missouri-St. Louis after touring areas of Ferguson. He was flanked by Johnson, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Johnson pledged to protect Ferguson while allowing protesters and marchers to have their say. He said he wants to rebuild trust and respect in the community.
“I grew up here and this is clearly my community and my home. Therefore, this means a lot to me personally,” he said. “I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and I understand and respect both of those.”
Earlier today at a gathering at Christ the King United Church of Christ Nixon pledged to make an “operational shift” in the way Ferguson protests are being handled by police and had promised to reveal his plans later today.
“We will have a different approach today,” Johnson said. He planned to go to the burned out QuikTrip that has been a center for protesters and visit with them.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill got a standing ovation inside Christ the King United Church of Christ this morning when she told a crowd the county should “demilitarize the police response” in Ferguson.
McCaskill spoke moments after Gov. Jay Nixon told the same crowd there would be an “operational shift” in the handling of Ferguson.
Afterward she told reporters, “The police response has been part of the problem.”
McCaskill told reporters, “It is my understanding that the county police will be taken off the investigation.”
But when pressed on it, she didn’t elaborate.
Nixon got loud applause from the crowd when he talked about the media. “If people in the newspapers want to cover things and take pictures and stuff,” he said. “They ought to do it. It’s a free country.”
President Barack Obama today called again for “peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson,” addressing for the second time the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the violent clashes between police and protesters that have ensued.
“Let us remember we are all part of one American family,” Obama said in a short address from Martha’s Vineyard, where he is vacationing. “We are united in common values and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right of peaceful protest.”
Obama also notably gave a vote of confidence to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. Obama said he talked with Nixon this morning and “I expressed my concern over the violent turn of events” in Ferguson.
“He is a good man and fine governor,” Obama said.
Obama said he was briefed this morning on the situation in Ferguson by Attorney General Eric Holder. He criticized the arrest of journalists, said there is no excuse for police use of force against peaceful protesters, and that there is “never an excuse for violence against police or those who would use this as a cover for vandalism or looting.”