FERGUSON, Mo.””The city is not the same as it was 24 hours ago.
There are no armored vehicles patrolling the streets of Ferguson Thursday night. Cars are free to travel along West Florissant Avenue, once blocked by police, and drivers pound on the horn as they pass. There’s no hint of tear gas, just the scent of tobacco smoke in the warm summer air.
A few hours ago, Missouri officials put another police force in command. The decision signaled a coordinated movement to restore calm after several days of protests. Out is the St. Louis County Police Department, whose crowd-control methods””tear gas, rubber bullets, officers in combat gear threatening arrest””were characterized as heavy-handed. In is the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
It is too early to tell whether Ferguson has turned a corner since the protests began on Sunday, in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old who was unarmed, by a white police officer Saturday afternoon. But the atmosphere is indeed different than before.
Only about four police officers from the city of St. Louis (a department not associated with St. Louis County Police) were in the neighborhood near West Florissant Avenue, talking to protesters. They were not wearing bullet-proof vests. About a dozen people dressed in black and wearing patches with a Black Panther logo were directing traffic.
“Where were [the Panthers] yesterday?” asked Eric Price, who chatted with police. He brought his 71 year-old mother, Phyllis Price, with him to the protest. It’s her birthday, and she wanted to celebrate it here with hundreds of people rallying in front of what once was a Quiktrip convenience store, set aflame on Sunday night.
Now, on Thursday night, “it feels good. It feels relaxed,” Phyllis said. Phyllis grew up a few blocks away and remembers the days when she had to ride in the back of the public bus because she is black. She hopes Brown’s death will make a difference in the communities north of St. Louis, which are known as NADs: “Not After Dark.” That’s when police will pull over anyone just because they’re black, she says.
“I hope this makes more than a difference,” she said. “A change.”
The day before, “it was like a standoff. It was us against them,” said Rena Perry, 33, standing near the Quiktrip. “Today, it’s totally different. It’s much better.”
Why? “Because they’re not standing over there with rifles and guns, ready to shoot,” the Berkeley, Mo. resident said, referring to police officers at the scene.
Protesters say they feel able to demonstrate in the streets because they believe the risk of arrest or violence has decreased along with police presence. Still, some locals say they are worried that the situation could take a turn for the worse overnight. People remain angry over Brown’s death, and chants continue. “No justice, no peace.” “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Hours earlier, President Obama had called for calm in Ferguson. “There’s … no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights,” the president said.
The streets of Ferguson, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday afternoon, had begun to resemble a “war zone,” and that was “unacceptable.”
“We’re working with Highway Patrol to make sure everything you see here tonight is calm and peaceful,” said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson on Thursday night.
Part of that, it appears, involves taking seflies with protesters. Here’s Dotson smiling for the camera:
Other protesters were not willing to forget the week’s confrontations with police. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar was immediately surrounded when he stepped out of a Missouri State Highway Patrol SUV with Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson. People demanded answers as the pair walked down West Florissant Avenue.
“We were being peaceful. You put the dogs on us. You took the media away. You told them to turn their cameras off,” Deandra Jackson yelled at Belmar. “You tell us we can’t walk on public property. What was that all about?”
He didn’t answer.
“What’s his name?” The protesters chanted in unison as they surrounded the officers. Johnson said officials would release the name on Friday. CNN reported late Thursday night that the officer would be publicly identified Friday.
“We came out here because we thought you were being peaceful,” he said before he and Belmar got into the car a few minutes later and drove away.
What We're Following See More »
President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.
Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.