Gov­er­nor vows change in Fer­gu­son po­lice re­sponse

The Covington News - - THE WIRE -

FLORIS­SANT, Mo. (AP) — Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nixon said Thurs­day that un­spec­i­fied “op­er­a­tional shifts” are ahead for law en­force­ment in the St. Louis sub­urb that has been the scene of vi­o­lent protests since a po­lice of­fi­cer fa­tally shot an un­armed black teenager.

Speak­ing at a meet­ing of clergy and com­mu­nity mem­bers, the gov­er­nor told the au­di­ence that “you all will see a dif­fer­ent tone” in law en­force­ment’s re­sponse to the demon­stra­tions in the town of Fer­gu­son.

Nixon did not elab­o­rate on the changes ahead, but they are likely to be ex­plained at a news con­fer­ence planned for later in the day.

The gov­er­nor said law en­force­ment of­fi­cers had dis­played “a fear to hear not just about this ac­tion but about how it fits in a much longer and broader con­text of a deeper march for jus­tice.”

In his first in-person re­marks about the tense stand­off, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ap­pealed for “peace and calm” on the streets.

“I know emo­tions are raw right now in Fer­gu­son, and there are cer­tainly pas­sion­ate dif­fer­ences about what has hap­pened,” Obama said. “But let’s re­mem­ber that we’re all part of one Amer­i­can fam­ily. We are united in com­mon val­ues and that in­cludes the be­lief in equal­ity un­der the law, re­spect for pub­lic order and the right to peace­ful pub­lic protests.”

Obama, speak­ing from the Mas­sachusetts is­land where he’s on a two-week va­ca­tion, said there was no ex­cuse for ex­ces­sive force by po­lice in the af­ter­math of Satur­day’s shoot­ing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. He said he had asked the Jus­tice De­part­ment and FBI to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent.

Po­lice on Thurs­day de­fended the use of tear gas and smoke bombs to re­pel demon­stra­tors af­ter another night of chaos over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

St. Louis County po­lice spokesman Brian Schell­man said of­fi­cers on Wed­nes­day night tossed tear gas to dis­perse a large crowd of pro­test­ers af­ter some threw Molo­tov cock­tails and rocks at of­fi­cers. More than 10 peo­ple were ar­rested in Fer­gu­son.

“In talk­ing to these guys, it is scary,” Schell­man said of of­fi­cers on the front lines of the protest. “They hear gun­shots go­ing off, and they don’t know where they’re com­ing from.”

But the po­lice re­sponse has drawn heavy crit­i­cism from many cir­cles. Civil rights ac­tivist Al Sharp­ton called Thurs­day for the Jus­tice De­part­ment to mon­i­tor Fer­gu­son and the way po­lice are han­dling the cri­sis.

“Even if we dis­agree, this cli­mate is not good for any­one and is danger­ous for every­one,” Sharp­ton said in a state­ment.

At the com­mu­nity meet­ing, Sierra Smith, who lives in the neigh­bor­hood where Brown was shot, told the gov­er­nor “the po­lice have no re­spect at all for the com­mu­nity.”

Nixon re­sponded that the Bill of Rights gives the peo­ple “the right speak truth to power” and “we will work to live out those rights.”

Nixon has faced in­creas­ing crit­i­cism over sug­ges­tions he has not done enough to calm ten­sions.

State Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal had been par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of the gov­er­nor, ac­cus­ing him of be­ing miss­ing in ac­tion dur­ing the cri­sis. In an in­ter­view on MSNBC, she called the gov­er­nor a “cow­ard.”

The po­lice chiefs of Fer­gu­son and St. Louis County said Wed­nes­day that race re­la­tions were the top pri­or­ity in the town. A meet­ing was sched­uled for Thurs­day be­tween civil rights lead­ers and po­lice.

Of­fi­cers from mul­ti­ple de­part­ments in riot gear and in mil­i­tary equip­ment have clashed nightly with pro­test­ers, who chant, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Pro­test­ers faced heav­ily armed po­lice who at times trained weapons on them from ar­mored trucks.

Two re­porters said they were de­tained by po­lice for not clear­ing out quickly enough from a McDon­ald’s where they were work­ing, near the protests but away from the more volatile ar­eas. The two, who work for The Wash­ing­ton Post and The Huff­in­g­ton Post, were re­leased with­out any charges. Both say they were as­saulted but not se­ri­ously hurt.

AP Photo/Jeff Rober­son

Sierra Smith sits with her 4-year-old daugh­ter, Aniya, be­hind Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nixon, left, as they lis­ten dur­ing a meet­ing of clergy and com­mu­nity mem­bers, Thurs­day, Aug. 14, 2014, in Floris­sant, Mo. Nixon says “op­er­a­tional shifts” are ahead for law en­force­ment in the St. Louis sub­urb where a po­lice of­fi­cer fa­tally shot an un­armed black teenager.

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