After days of dramatic confrontations between protesters and police, Missouri officials say authorities are trying to restore calm.
“Work continues to assure the safety and freedom of people to assemble and respect their views while protecting property and staying safe,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said during a Friday afternoon press conference in a mall parking lot on Buzz Westfall Drive in Jennings, Mo., just outside of Ferguson. “Moving forward, our goal is to make sure we keep the peace while these parallel investigations are going on, continue, and justice is served.”
Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol said the situation on the ground has changed. “Last night was a great night,” Johnson said. “There was no calls for service. We did not deploy tear gas. We did not have any roadblocks. We did not make any arrests. It was a good night. People were talking. People were inspiring each other, and we were communicating a lot better.”
Johnson, who grew up in the area, added, “I’ve got a son, and I’ve got a daughter. And I want them to be able to walk these streets safely.”
The statements come just hours after Ferguson police identified the officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the force. Johnson said he will speak with Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who released the name, later Friday.
Johnson told National Journal he had not seen the collection of police reports that Ferguson police provided to the media Friday morning.
The St. Louis suburb has been the site of protests since Brown’s death Saturday afternoon. The exact timeline of that day’s events is murky. According to police reports provided by Ferguson authorities to the media, Brown was listed as the primary suspect in a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store early Saturday afternoon. Jackson did not say during a Friday press conference what led to Brown’s death sometime after the robbery.
What happened during the shooting is also unclear. Witnesses have claimed that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot, while authorities have said Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun. Police have not said how many times Brown was shot.
Nixon said he does not believe the investigation into Brown’s death has been mismanaged by local and state police. The timing of the release of some information, however, could have been better.
“I’ve said certain things should have come out sooner rather than later, but that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is where are we standing here, and where we’re standing here right now, is that new facts are out that weren’t out yesterday. But those are not the full picture of anything.”
Johnson did not release any more details on the shooting, and his remarks suggested he has not been in close contact with Ferguson police Friday. Nixon responded defensively to several questions about his whereabouts this week. The governor, whose response to the protests has been characterized as slow, said he has worked closely with local law enforcement this week. Johnson defended Nixon’s handling of the situation.
The streets of Ferguson on Friday are visibly calmer after days of protests. There is minimal police presence, and people are able to drive down streets once blocked by barricades. Protesters hand out doughnuts and coffee. They’re still angry over Brown’s death, but they say they feel able to demonstrate in the streets without threat of arrest.
The shift in atmosphere coincided with a change in command on Thursday. Missouri officials brought in the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and pulled off the St. Louis County Police Department, whose crowd-control tactics””tear gas and rubber bullets””were considered heavy-handed and excessive.
The FBI is opening an investigation into the shooting. Local and state officials are conducting their own investigation of his death, which could take weeks.
Several protesters shouted questions at Nixon and Johnson on Friday. To them, Johnson said, closing the conference, “I’ll see you guys tonight down at the QuikTrip,” referring to the convenience store near West Florissant Avenue that was set on fire Sunday night, when the protests began.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Friday afternoon’s press conference. It was held on Buzz Westfall Drive in Jennings, Mo.