Ferguson Police Chief Says He ‘Hopes’ He Won’t Have to Gas More People

The police force is working with the Justice Department to help minimize racial tensions in the city.

Protesters are forced by police from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on Aug. 11 in Ferguson, Mo.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms and Reena Flores
Aug. 13, 2014, 1:05 p.m.

Mis­souri state Sen. Maria Chap­pelle-Nadal had a ques­tion for Fer­guson Po­lice Chief Thomas Jack­son dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day: “I just want to know if I’m go­ing to be gassed again.”

“I hope not,” Jack­son replied.

Chap­pelle-Nadal was one of sev­er­al who were hit with tear gas dur­ing a rally Monday protest­ing the po­lice shoot­ing of Mi­chael Brown, an un­armed young man, last week­end. Of­ficers also fired rub­ber bul­lets in­to the crowds after, they said, some pro­test­ers began throw­ing rocks at them.

“We can’t breathe,” Chapelle-Nadal wrote dur­ing the in­cid­ent, ac­cord­ing to loc­al polit­ics site Polit­icMO. “I’m shak­ing. Kids can’t breathe.”

In an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, Chapelle-Nadal said she was not sat­is­fied with Jack­son’s re­sponse. “That’s a ri­dicu­lous re­sponse,” she said. “I was with 150 kids. We were peace­fully demon­strat­ing. I felt very safe with those kids. We re­ceived tear gas…and it was ex­cess­ive.”

“I’ve been to Ir­aq be­fore, and I don’t think I’ve been faced with fire in Ir­aq like I’ve been faced with fire [here],” she said.

Jack­son’s re­sponse came dur­ing an ex­pans­ive press con­fer­ence with re­port­ers and a few act­iv­ists, as protests con­tin­ue to rav­age the small Mid­west­ern sub­urb. Fer­guson po­lice are ask­ing””though not de­mand­ing””that pro­test­ers lim­it their activ­it­ies to day­light hours in hopes of cut­ting down on vi­ol­ence.

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The po­lice de­part­ment has said re­peatedly in re­cent days that while the ma­jor­ity of pro­test­ers are peace­ful, they are con­cerned about the gath­er­ings be­ing co­opted by a vi­ol­ent few. Last night, after a rally led by Rev. Al Sharpton, for ex­ample, a wo­man was shot in the head in a drive-by shoot­ing. Jack­son said Wed­nes­day that the wo­man was fine and that the in­jury had been “su­per­fi­cial.” It’s un­clear wheth­er the shoot­ing was re­lated to the un­rest over Brown’s death, however.

“There needs to be clar­ity for people peace­fully demon­strat­ing,” Chapelle-Nadal told Na­tion­al Journ­al Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. “We will not be threatened with tear gas or rub­ber bul­lets…what they were do­ing to us was in­ex­cus­able.”

An­oth­er demon­stra­tion was slated to be­gin 4 p.m. loc­al time Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

In the mean­time, Jack­son said he is work­ing with the Justice De­part­ment to ease ra­cial ten­sions and pre­vent something like Brown’s shoot­ing from hap­pen­ing again in the fu­ture.

Al­though the city is nearly two-thirds black, the po­lice force is over­whelm­ingly white. “I’ve been try­ing to in­crease the di­versity of the de­part­ment since I got here.”¦ It’s a con­stant struggle to hire and re­tain per­son­nel,” Jack­son said.

Jack­son said he would im­ple­ment any re­com­mend­a­tions by DOJ to help al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem. “Race re­la­tions, that’s a top pri­or­ity right now,” Jack­son said.

As for re­turn­ing the city to nor­mal in the short-term, Jack­son had few an­swers. When asked by a re­port­er how the city would re­cov­er in the next few days, Jack­son said he was cer­tain that protests would con­tin­ue, but hoped that all of Fer­guson’s cit­izens would re­cog­nize that peace­ful demon­stra­tion is more ef­fect­ive than vi­ol­ence.

Fer­guson po­lice plan to meet with Brown’s moth­er for the first time as soon as to­mor­row. Jack­son said that his de­part­ment has not yet con­tac­ted her, but is work­ing with the NAACP and Justice De­part­ment to fa­cil­it­ate that meet­ing.

Jack­son also re­spon­ded to some on­line re­ports re­leased by the group An­onym­ous and oth­ers claim­ing to show pho­tos of the of­ficer who shot Brown stand­ing over his body, as well as au­dio re­cord­ings re­lated to the shoot­ing. Jack­son said that the of­ficer shown was not the shoot­er, whose name is still be­ing with­held by the de­part­ment. He ad­ded, however, that 911 au­dio would be re­leased by the de­part­ment “shortly.”

This story was up­dated Wed­nes­day night to re­flect an in­ter­view with Maria Chap­pelle-Nadal.

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