Ferguson Withdraws Militarized Police Force
With tear gas and riot police out, demonstrators walk in peace for justice
"It feels like there's been a military occupation lifted off of the area," Patricia Bynes, Democratic Committeewoman of Ferguson Township, told Democracy Now! Friday.
Such was the change in atmosphere in Ferguson, Missouri, where daily protests since the police shooting on Saturday of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown had been met with tear gas, rubber bullets and tanks, bringing widespread criticism to the nation's increasingly militarized police departments and evoking images of civil rights battles of the past.
"What's gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri is about. It's not what Ferguson is about," Gov. Jay Nixon said. "This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families, go to church. But lately it's looked a little bit more like a war zone and that's unacceptable."
Nixon said Thursday that the security responsibilities for Ferguson would be transferred to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and led by Capt. Ron Johnson, a native of the area.
Johnson, who is black, announced that his team would be using "a different approach," and said that police would respect "the anger and fear" that has gripped Ferguson's residents. State troopers walked with demonstrators on Thursday night, when no riot police of tear gas were present, and some of the protestors warmly greeted Johnson.
Standing in front of demonstrators, Johnson held up a photo of Brown and told CNN, "This is why we're here." Watch the video below:
Following the police power transfer, the Guardian reported, "a carnival-like demonstration filled the center of the city." The new atmosphere was described by the Associated Press as "almost jubilant."
“This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect,” 41-year-old Pedro Smith, 41, who has been taking part in the protests, told AP.
St. Louis alderman Antonio French, who was arrested during the demonstration on Wednesday, praised the change, telling CNN, "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.
Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, suspects that Nixon's announcement was sparked not by the militarized police response against the protesters but the arrests of two journalists covering the protests.
“The treatment that the media received … was what many of the protesters have received the last four days,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Nasheed as saying. “Only when the media get attacked in a negative manner by the police officers, only then does the governor come out and speak.”
In various cities across the nation, solidarity protests were held. In Baltimore and New York City on Thursday, chants of "Whose streets? Our streets!" rang out from the streets.
Police in Ferguson revealed Friday that the officer who shot Michael Brown is Darren Wilson.
See some of the images from Ferguson that are emerging on Twitter: