Peace comes to Ferguson, release of officer’s name imminent
FERGUSON, Missouri (CNN) — Ferguson remained at peace after night fell on Thursday for the first time since Michael Brown was killed. And protesters have learned that their demand to know the name of the officer who shot him may be met as early as Friday.
Brown, an African-American teen, was shot to death on Saturday.
The crowds swelled and became more diverse on Thursday; their chants for justice accompanied a concert of honking car horns, and though their cause was somber, their mood was buoyant.
Many praised a new security arrangement, now lead by the Missouri State Highway Patrol for the change of tide.
Gone were the military gear and vehicles, the stun grenades, plastic pellets and tear gas police deployed on previous nights, and so were Molotov cocktails, sounds of gunfire and strife from rioters who had wandered among peaceful demonstrators.
After the St. Louis suburb had looked like a police state Wednesday night, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon relieved local police departments of the crowd control command and handed it over to the highway patrol.
“The attitudes weren’t improving, and the blocks towards expression appeared to be a flashpoint,” he said. Nixon wanted security to back off and let people vent their feelings appropriately.
Highway patrol Capt. Ron Johnson is now in charge.
“We have different approach that we’re using this evening,” he told CNN’s Don Lemon. Smiling instead of scowling is key. “I’ve smiled more today than I have in the past few days.”
Maj. Ronnie Robinson from the St. Louis City Police is working with Johnson. He underlined the importance of dialog with residents. “We feel the pain in the community,” he said. They can protest 24 hours, if they want to.
He also insisted there will be law and order. No looting, no vandalizing. State troopers will protect small businesses, he said. And protesters may not block the streets.
Despite the new tone by authorities, some protesters said they were prepared for police aggression.
“Gas me, shoot me, I will stand my ground,” one protester’s sign read.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who was arrested at a demonstration in Ferguson on Wednesday, said he’s noticed the new tone. He has given the blame for riotous acts to police.
“Really, it has been the police presence, the heavy-handed presence, which has escalated the situation, and I think led to the violence each night. And so it’s good to see this new approach,” he said.
The officer’s name
The investigation into Brown’s shooting is wrapping up, and a source close to the probe says the Ferguson police department plans to release on Friday the name of the officer who killed Brown.
Protesters have demanded to find out who he is, since Brown was shot.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar was less definite about when the name would be released, although he said that it’s up to Ferguson police.
“It’s being discussed at the very highest levels,” Belmar said. “We’re probably going to learn something in the next day or two.”
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit seeking the release of the officer’s name under the state’s open records law.
Missouri law provides a specific exemption barring the release of records that authorities conclude are “likely to pose a clear and present danger” to victims, witnesses or others.
Officials say police officers, and others in the administration and police force, have received death threats.
Ferguson’s police department has been criticized for a lack of ethnic diversity. The St. Louis suburb’s population is two thirds African-American. Of the police force’s 53 officers, only six are African-American.
An eyewitness has said that the officer who shot Brown was Caucasian.
Both Johnson and Robinson are African-American. Though he believes in ethnic diversity and would like to see more in Ferguson’s police force, Robinson did not peg it to skin color but to a person’s ability to understand people’s culture and communicate with them.
“You’ve got to give respect to get respect,” he said.
Authorities have said that the change of appearance of the police force was intentional.
As Robinson spoke, a group of young Caucasian men behind him held up a sign calling for justice for Brown.
The city was a “powder keg,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said earlier Thursday, before the change of guard in security arrangements, which the U.S. Justice Department had influenced. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that local authorities had accepted the department’s help.
Upset residents gathered to protest Browns killing as soon as his body lay in the street on Saturday.
No one has disputed that Brown was unarmed. But police say he tried to grab the officer’s gun, something two witnesses dispute. They say that the officer fired on the 18-year-old as he tried to distance himself and raised his hands into the air.
Demonstrations have continued since, turning into a ruckus after nightfall, and violence has broken out. Police have detained dozens, including two journalists.
President Barack Obama on Thursday called for peace from all sides.
“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” he said. “There is 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.”
Brown’s killing has gained attention around the world and moved people to protest in other U.S. cities on Thursday. In Los Angeles and in New York, hundreds gathered to demand justice for Brown.
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