A Peaceful Night in Ferguson After Weeks of Tension & Turmoil
FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) - Peace returned Wednesday to the streets of Ferguson, Mo., after five consecutive nights of violent protests. Dozens of local clergy wore orange T-shirts and worked to keep the peace. And on Thursday, Missouri's governor said the National Guard would leave the town.
Rain in Ferguson and another protest in the St. Louis area were factors in the smallest crowd since protesters took to the streets night after night after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
There was a bit of provocation Wednesday night.
Shortly after 8 p.m., a man and a woman from St. Louis, who called themselves Chuck and Dawn, stirred the crowd into a frenzy by showing up with signs supporting Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown.
"We have a right to be here and be safe!" Dawn told reporters.
An enraged crowd confronted the couple as they tried to make a lap around the protest area.
"No justice for Darren Wilson!" yelled a protester.
Community leaders and pastors, including St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, locked arms around the couple to keep angry protesters at bay. A bottle was thrown at the couple, but was off the mark.
"Don't do it! This is what they want!" a protester yelled at the thrower.
French said it was important to offer what protection he could, even if the couple had the opposite view that he had.
"Folks just have to stay focused, and her presence was definitely a distraction," French told Courthouse News. "Unfortunately, it did distract some people."
Police swarmed the crowd as the couple neared the finish of their lap. The couple was herded into a St. Louis County Police SUV and driven away for their own safety.
During the extraction, police pushed the protesters and media back.
Some of the protesters openly wondered if police planted the couple to insight a riot.
"I told you the police would do everything they could to protect those white people!" one protester said as the couple was driven away.
A fast-moving rainstorm hit the area as the couple left, helping to reduce the tension.
Ferguson area school students have become collateral damage from the protests.
The Ferguson-Florissant School District was supposed to begin classes on Aug. 14. Due to the protests, the first day of school has been pushed back to Aug. 25.
"We believe that closing schools for the rest of this week will allow needed time for peace and stability to be restored to our community," the district said in a statement.
It was unwelcome news for Keyanna Wilson's daughter, Khrystal.
The McCluer North High sophomore was up at 5 a.m. getting ready for the start of the school year on Aug. 14 when she got the news. Khrystal had already hung up her outfit the night before.
Adding to Wilson's frustration is that they live in Florissant, in the northern part of the district, well away from the protests.
"I understand they figure that some of the kids that are in the Ferguson part of it, they can't got to school so then they keep the Florissant kids out of school," Wilson said. "I don't think it's fair, but I understand why the Ferguson kids are out. They can't get to school, the busses can't get down there because there's barricades and stuff like that."
Maxine Duncan, whose granddaughter is an honor student at Ferguson Middle School, echoed Wilson's frustration.
"I don't think it's a safety issue," Duncan said. "Now the kids have eight days to make up."
McCluer High sophomore Tacherish Johnson doesn't mind the delay. Johnson said taking part in the protests has been an education.
"I feel like there's some good to come out of it," Johnson said. "We get respect and everybody is standing up for the same thing and it's kind of bringing some unity."
High school football is scheduled to start this weekend in Missouri. Three schools - McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkeley - have been directly affected by the protests.
"It's all football when I get to practice, but you can't not think about it," McCluer senior quarterback Randall Ceaser told Sports Illustrated. "You go online, and you have people saying Ferguson is a ghetto, that we fit a stereotype. CNN shows the fighting and shooting. This is not a ghetto. The extreme people in this situation - people not even from here - are making a name for us that we don't want."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Brown's family in Ferguson on Wednesday. Holder has called for a federal autopsy to be performed on Brown's body.
Also Wednesday, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch convened a grand jury to investigate evidence in Brown's death. McCulloch said that the grand jury's investigation could last until mid-October.
The Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Council will hold a press conference Thursday. The group will present 70,000 signatures from Missouri residents calling for the immediate removal of McCulloch from the Brown shooting investigation.
The Council's demands include that Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Brown, be immediately fired and charged with murder; that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon immediately remove McCulloch from the investigation; an investigation of local municipalities that have demonstrated a legacy of racial profiling; an audit of those municipalities; and the immediate resignation of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.