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St. Louis, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon today announced that effective immediately troops from the Missouri State Highway Patrol would be in charge of security in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed 19-year-old, Mike Brown, was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer.
Leading the effort is Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, a black man who grew up nearby.
In contrast to violent events in Ferguson Wednesday night, protests Thursday evening were peaceful, and tensions cooled dramatically when Johnson and his troopers joined in the march. Some even described the mood as “jubilant” and “festive.”
In a press conference this afternoon, Nixon said that in talking to members of the Ferguson community, “They told me they want a community that’s healthy, happy and safe. They want their streets to be free from intimidation and fear. They told me they want peace. They want truth. They want to be treated with respect. Today, my message to the people of Ferguson is that those voices have been heard.”
Capt. Johnson told reporters, “We are going to have a different approach and have the approach that we’re in this together. I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and our officers will respect both of those. It means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence.”
Regarding a question on the release of the name of the Ferguson police officer who shot Brown, Nixon said, “I hope the release of that name, with the correct security in place, would be an important milestone. To get it out as expeditiously as possible.” (The officer’s name was released Friday; see update below.)
Also during the press conference St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said he plans to appoint a blue ribbon committee determine ways they can improve the communication between County residents and County government.
Earlier Nixon had said, “The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans. While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.”
Nixon spoke by phone with President Barack Obama today before the press conference.
Tuesday Gov. Nixon told a group of community and faith leaders, “We stand together tonight, reeling from what feels like an old wound that has been torn open afresh. A wound that hadn’t quite healed right in the first place, and now the pain is just as searing as when the injury first occurred. . . . This tragedy is a challenge to all of us, not only to the citizens of Ferguson – but to all Missourians — to join hands and begin a journey of reconciliation. To have patience for the investigation that is now underway, but be unwavering in our insistence that it be open, thorough and fair. To keep the peace, while remaining uncompromising in our expectation that justice must not simply be pursued, but achieved. To express the anger and frustration that we rightfully feel in a way that respects the living, and honors the memory of the young man we mourn.”
“In the face of crisis, we must show calm,” Nixon said. “Instead of burning bridges in anger, we must build them with love. And when these traumatic events threaten to open a chasm of distrust, we must fill it with understanding and compassion.”
Update: Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson Friday identified the officer who shot Mike Brown as Darren Wilson. Wilson, 28, had been with the Ferguson police four years and two years with the Jennings police before that. There previously have been no complaints against Wilson.
At the same time Chief Thomas identified Wilson he announced that Brown was a suspect in a strong-arm convenience store robbery that occurred shortly before the confrontation between Brown and Wilson.
Thomas showed still photos and a video of the robbery to reporters at the press conference. Brown was accused of stealing some Swisher Sweet cigars from the store. Brown reportedly grabbed the store clerk by the shirt and “forcibly pushed him back,” according to a police report of the incident. Cigars were found on Brown’s person after the shooting.
Chief Jackson said Officer Wilson was not responding to the robbery report when he stopped Brown and Dorian Johnson, but was in the area at the time. Jackson said. Jennings may have been aware of the report and suspected the pair after he stopped them for walking in the street.
The robbery was not previously mentioned in discussion of the shooting incident.
The Brown family and their attorney were not made aware of the report before the press conference.
Additional Update: Protests remained calm and peaceful Friday evening until about midnight, when looters reappeared and some protesters started screaming. Initially police used smoke bombs to disperse the crowd. Later looters appeared at the convenience store where the robbery took place while some protesters tried to block them. Some car windows and other glass were broken. Police then used tear gas. The scene quieted with driving rain and the arrival of St. Louis Alderman Antonio French and other civic leaders. The next afternoon Gov. Nixon declared a state of emergency and ordered a curfew from midnight until 5 p.m.
“Tonight we will enforce that curfew,” Capt. Johnson said. “We won’t enforce it with trucks. We won’t enforce it with arms. We will communicate. We will survive this. We will make a change.”
Most protesters went home peacefully Saturday night as midnight approached but “a couple hundred” defiant protesters remained. Police dressed in riot gear kept their distance but soon used smoke bombs and then tear gas to clear the crowd. By 2 a.m. most of the protesters had left. Seven persons were arrested.