Saint Louis, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon is directing the Highway Patrol to take over command and control of Ferguson crowd control operations for the remainder of the protests. Captain Ron S. Johnson, commander of Troop C and North County resident, will now be in charge of directing the boots on the ground in the small St. Louis suburb.
“Lately, it’s looked a little like a war zone,” Nixon told a press conference earlier today. The press conference came hours after Nixon flew into St. Louis County to meet with faith leaders and local Ferguson protestors about several nights worth of violence that have resulted in several clashes with police and arrests.
Nixon promised the crowd a “different tone” from police.
“We have to have safety,” Nixon said. “We also have to allow those who need to express their energy in an appropriate way the right to do that. We will not get the feeling that we all need if the only response from the public is ‘you all just be quiet.’”
Nixon used the opportunity to quell criticism that he wasn’t engaged enough in last night events, when protestors were fired on with tear gas and rubber bullets and two national journalists from the HuffingtonPost and Washington Post were arrested.
“If folks want to take pictures, they ought to be able to, we live in a free county and we need a picture of the moment, of this moment,” Nixon said.
Nixon also defended the protesters, saying as long as they respect “people and property” then they shouldn’t be quieted. He also said it wasn’t reasonable to expect every protester to be “respectful.”
“They have things to say, and it might not be nice, but we need to let them say it,” Nixon said.
Johnson, a black man, has grown up in North County since he was 9, and told reporters that there would be a “different picture,” and a “different approach” to tonight’s police presence. Johnson’s command is designed to help dampen the perception of an overzealous police department. County police came under fire from national media outlets last night when a militarized police force appeared to antagonize a peaceful protest.
“When we talk about boots on the ground, I’ll be one of those boots,” Johnson said. “I’ll be walking to the QuikTrip tonight, as soon as I leave here I’m headed to Ferguson.”
Johnson also promised to protect the press and said media were allies with law enforcement. While he said the police would have resources necessary to deal with escalation tonight, there will be a deliberate attempt to tone down law enforcement presence in Ferguson.
“We’re not looking in the rear-view-mirror,” Nixon said. “We’re looking forward. Last night was last night, today is today, and tomorrow is tomorrow.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.