A change of tone in Ferguson

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 8/15/14, 11:55 am

Amid calls for more government accountability, Ferguson, Mo., police have named the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown on Saturday. Outside a convenience store destroyed earlier by looters, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson announced this morning that the officer, Darren Wilson, is a six-year veteran of the force. He has never been the subject of disciplinary action.

This morning’s press conference, along with police documents obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, shed more light on the shooting of the unarmed teen, which has prompted several nights of violent clashes between police and protesters. The documents say police considered 18-year-old Brown and his companion, 22-year-old Dorian Johnson, suspects in a convenience store robbery that was reported just before the shooting. Brown’s mother has said he was walking to his grandmother’s house when he was shot.

Police did not release any further details about the events immediately before the shooting, though earlier officials said Wilson was attacked in his car. Brown graduated from Normandy High School this year and was due to start classes at Vatterott College this month, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Releasing the officer’s name followed a shift in the government’s response to the shooting and its resulting community backlash. Residents complained city and county authorities had been standoffish and confrontational in how they handled the matter, from refusing to release the officer’s name to sending police in full riot gear to suppress nightly protests.

Ferguson police, St. Louis County police, and the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office all said their actions were necessary to ensure Wilson’s safety and the public’s. But higher authorities apparently disagreed. President Barack Obama made a statement yesterday that was critical, but not condemning, of how police handled the protests. 

“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said, speaking from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon took a further step Thursday afternoon, relieving local police of their command over security in Ferguson. Nixon appointed Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol to oversee the police response Thursday night. Nixon said the change was intended to make sure “that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately.”

The move appears to have worked, for now. After several nights of violent clashes with police, St. Louis residents demonstrated peacefully in Ferguson on Thursday afternoon and evening, at times walking side-by-side with Johnson, who grew up in the community.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch slammed Nixon for undermining the authority of local police, implying the decision could have long-term consequences. “For Nixon to never talk to the commanders in the field and come in here and take this action is disgraceful,” McCulloch told the Post-Dispatch

“I hope I’m wrong, but I think what Nixon did may put a lot of people in danger.”

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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