After four days of violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, there was a dramatic shift in tone on Thursday evening. Governor Jay Nixon announced earlier in the day that the Missouri State Highway Patrol would assume control of the situation from St. Louis County police, and so far, their approach has sparked such a massive improvement that it looks like a case study in good policing techniques.
Rather than arriving in heavy riot gear, firing tear gas into the crowd, and arresting reporters, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson told officers to take off their gas masks, promised not to block the streets, and designated an area for the media. And in a move that appeared to hold the most significance for protesters, Johnson headed into the crowd, listening to people's grievances and vowing to do better. "When I see a young lady cry because of fear of this uniform, that’s a problem," Johnson said, according to the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery. "We’ve got to solve that."
Johnson, who is black and grew up in Ferguson, was welcomed by demonstrators, and many embraced him, thanked him for joining the march, and asked him to pose for selfies. Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times reports that a young man came up to Johnson and started filming as he told him his niece had been tear-gassed this week. "When you see your niece, tell her Captain Johnson said he's sorry and he apologizes," Johnson replied. The man walked away then came back to shake Johnson's hand.
Protesters said they are still furious about the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown on Saturday, and the chants of "no justice, no peace" and "hands up, don't shoot" continued into the night. However, the crowd worked with police officers and agreed to remain peaceful and let traffic pass. According to Lowery, a man using a megaphone said of the police, "They respect us, so let’s respect them. They’ve given us the sidewalk so let's stay out off their street."
The night isn't over yet, but here's a look at turnaround in Ferguson:
"Thank you so much for coming out here tonight," woman says to Johnson, almost in tears pic.twitter.com/Q6kS96bCM4— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Protesters at Ferguson PD have "community talking points." Level of organization/calm right now almost unbelievable pic.twitter.com/t0nC41tUaW— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 15, 2014
#Ferguson police showed up, blocked traffic while hurt protester was moved, as cops left someone threw plastic water hit cop car, 1/2— David Carson (@PDPJ) August 15, 2014
#Ferguson crowd admonished person who threw water bottle cried out "no" police didn't react left scene— David Carson (@PDPJ) August 15, 2014
"Black Men Do Matter." Could be a new day in Ferguson. pic.twitter.com/G8sXIyNEEA— Trymaine Lee (@trymainelee) August 15, 2014
Det. Kevin Bentley, one of several black police officers here, says police need to earn the public's trust back. pic.twitter.com/r8mHUo1301— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) August 15, 2014
Dark now. Virtually no cops. People lighting candles, air filled w constant horns. "We feel like somebody heard us." -Susan, 56, #Ferguson— Amy K. Nelson (@AmyKNelson) August 15, 2014
"This is what our community was like before a child was killed in our streets," protester tells me. "Aggression was never brought on by us."— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 15, 2014