JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When Governor Eric Greitens was still on the campaign trail in 2016, Missourians wanted to know from the gubernatorial candidates just how they would handle a situation like that of Ferguson, one that dominated the news cycle in 2014.
And speaking on the issue, then-Republican candidate Greitens told voters that if he were governor, he would have established a command presence in Ferguson and achieved “peace by the second night.”
The Republican criticized former Gov. Jay Nixon for his handling of the events, saying he failed to demonstrate leadership and did not do enough to quell the violence.
Sunday marked the third night of violence in St. Louis following the verdict in the trial against Jason Stockley, the man who had been charged with the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith.
Since the release of the verdict Friday morning, Greitens has been monitoring the situation in an attempt to coordinate with local officials and has been seen in St. Louis, meeting with leaders and law enforcement. On Friday evening, he visited the Emergency Operations Center at the St. Louis Metro Police Department to thank members of law enforcement and receive an update on the situation.
Prior to the issuing of the verdict, Greitens had the National Guard prepare for activation, and afterward brought in the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Guard. The National Guard has been assigned to protect buildings, having been given the order not to engage. The local authorities are still in charge, as MSHP and the National Guard are there to serve in a supporting capacity.
“Saturday night, some criminals decided to pick up rocks and break windows. They thought they’d get away with it. They were wrong. Our officers caught ‘em, cuffed ‘em, and threw ‘em in jail,” Greitens said early Sunday morning. “In the past, our leaders let people break windows, loot, start fires. They let them do it. Not this time. Tonight, the police arrested the vandals. At this moment, they’re all sitting in a jail cell. They’re gonna wake up and face felony charges. These aren’t protestors, these are criminals. Criminals, listen up: you break a window, you’re going to be behind bars. It’s that simple.”
“What I would have done is put in place a dusk-to-dawn curfew,” Greitens said in August 2016. “I also would have said to people who were upset and confused and angry that I’m going to be at a local church with the local chief of police and the mayor and I’ll be there to listen to anyone who is hurting.”
“We are going to keep every option on the table,” Greitens said when a member of the media asked him if he would consider a curfew over the weekend. As of right now, no dusk-to-dawn curfew has been put in effect.
In 2016, Greitens also accused his Democratic opponent, then-Attorney General Chris Koster, of abandoning police by failing to show up during the Ferguson protests. (Several media outlets confirmed that Koster was in fact on the ground during the events in Ferguson.)
“Chris Koster wasn’t there to make a difference,” Greitens said in 2016. “There were people that were hurting. People who needed to be heard. You need to go to the front lines and make a difference.
“Look, what you didn’t hear from Chris Koster was ‘I’m responsible.’ That’s what leaders do,” he added. “When things go wrong, you say ‘I am responsible.’ He’s the chief law enforcement officer of the state.”
Greitens also alleged that the Democrat privately pushed for the firing of Officer Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, which Koster denied.
But Greitens’ criticism of the former Attorney General turns a focus on the efforts of the current Attorney General, Josh Hawley.
Hawley’s reaction has been rather quiet compared to that of the Governor, issuing the following statement on Friday:
“The First Amendment guarantees the right of every American to peaceably assemble and express their views and their grievances. I encourage protestors to demonstrate peacefully, mindful of their safety and the safety of others. I know our law enforcement will work to keep them safe.”
Hawley sent a letter Saturday morning to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office outlining the laws against rioting and vandalism the Circuit Attorney has a responsibility to enforce. He also said that he will be making available all resources from the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute individuals who engage in violence or crime in the wake of the Stockley verdict.
In the letter, Hawley wrote that he is “committed to upholding the constitutional rights of all Missourians, including the fundamental rights of peaceful protesters to engage in free speech and peaceable assembly. However, no person has the right to engage in violence or crime. Citizens who demonstrate peacefully must be protected. Vandals and looters must be prosecuted.”
Attorney General Hawley also spoke with law enforcement officials over the weekend and thanked them for their service to the community.
As the protests continue into the next week, many wonder what the next steps will be, and if the situation will escalate and require further action.
(The featured image was provided by the Governor’s Office.)
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.