Public Safety & Justice

Governor Puts Highway Patrol in Charge in Ferguson

August 14, 2014
 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon put the state highway patrol in charge of security in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson Thursday as concerns grew over the handling of unrest following the death of an unarmed African-American teenager in a police shooting.

A chorus of public officials including President Barack Obama on Thursday called for an end to nightly clashes between police and demonstrators. Frustration has been building over the use of tear gas and other police tactics to disperse crowds protesting the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Such protests have been mixed with violence, including the throwing of bottles and rocks, property damage and looting.

The protests have gained national attention as scenes blurred by clouds of tear gas have spread across social media in real time. Mr. Nixon said people should expect a different tone with the changes being put in place.

Mr. Nixon has been facing pressure to take action as repeated calls for calm fell flat and criticism of police tactics grew. On Wednesday night, people took to the streets even as police encouraged them to stay home after dark. Police turned to tear gas and pepper paintballs to disperse the crowds and arrested two journalists who later were released without being charged.

Mr. Obama on Thursday expressed concern over the "violent turn" of events. The president spoke with Mr. Nixon before making a statement on the situation from Massachusetts. Mr. Obama said there is no excuse for violence against police or for law enforcement to use excessive force against peaceful protesters.

"Now's the time for healing. Now's the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson," he said. "Now's the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done."

Investigations are under way by the St. Louis county police and Mr. Obama said he has asked the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to independently investigate the shooting. Officials warned it will take time for them to reach any conclusion.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday condemned the "looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement" in Ferguson as unacceptable.

In an unusual move, Mr. Holder also issued a warning to local police.

"By the same token, the law-enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them… At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message," he said.

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