Tuesday, October 3, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Missouri Gov. Tries to Calm Jittery Nerves

WELDON SPRING, Mo. (CN) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday tried to ease tensions about the expected reaction to the upcoming grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting, and said the National Guard will be on call.

Nixon held a press conference outlining law enforcement's plans, along with St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar, St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson and Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. The officials spoke at the Missouri Highway Patrol's Troop C Headquarters.

The Ku Klux Klan posted an ominous threat of violence on a popular Ferguson protest Facebook page about an hour later.

During the news conference, Nixon said that law enforcement will observe two pillars: public safety and protesters' constitutional rights.

"As governor, the most important part of my job is keeping the people of Missouri safe," Nixon said. "Families must be able to see their kids off safely to schools in the morning, walk their neighborhoods at night and keep the doors of their businesses open without fear for their lives or property.

"Citizens must also have the right to express themselves peacefully without being threatened by individuals intent on creating violence and disorder."

Nixon said a joint command will be charged with keeping the peace after the St. Louis County grand jury decides whether to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, on Aug. 9.

The shooting spawned more than three months of protests, accusing police of excessive force and racial profiling. The protests, sometimes violent, have many in the St. Louis region fearing more violence, if the grand jury refuses to indict Wilson.

"We have been working around the clock to prepare to keep the residents and business of the St. Louis region safe, regardless of the parallel local and federal investigations," Nixon said. "Officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police and St. Louis City Police will operate as a unified command to protect the public.

"The National Guard has been and will continue to be part of our contingency planning. The Guard will be available when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement, but simply we must and will be full prepared."

Nixon said that police are coordinating with fire and EMS services; are prepared to extend law shifts and limit leave; and that the Missouri Department of Public Safety has issued additional equipment to make sure that the three agencies can communicate.

"Police officers recognize that peaceful protesters are exercising their right to free speech and they are determined to protect that right," Dotson said. "The criminal actions, acts of violence will not be tolerated. Police officers have been in tense situations and they did their jobs professionally and with determination to keep us all safe. They had rocks and bricks thrown at them, they were shot at, they had their families threatened, but they have continued to do their jobs with dignity and respect towards all and that's what we're all committed too and what we'll continue to do."

Johnson added: "We will make sure that kids can go to school, seniors can feel safe, parents can go to work, single mothers who have to walk or use the transit system to get to work will be able to work and support their families. We will make sure that our communities' small businesses remain whole, so their dream of success can be maintained. That is what a police officer is expected to do and that is what we will do."

The protests were particularly violent in the two weeks after the shooting in August. Tear gas and rubber bullets were nightly fixtures in the Ferguson streets.

"We were able to get through August without the loss of human life at the hands of law enforcement," Belmar said. "As violent as it was some nights, we were able to get through August without serious injury. But that's remarkable. In fact, in many ways that's unprecedented in American law enforcement, especially recently."

Nixon said that several scholarship and business partnerships have been formed to assist low-income communities as a result of the Ferguson protests.

The governor also announced that he is establishing a commission to examine the causes and solutions to the problems the Ferguson protests have highlighted.

But Nixon said all of that positive momentum can be taken away if violence is allowed to prevail.

In that light, Nixon said, he and law enforcement have had productive dialogue with community and protest leaders, clergy and peaceful protesters about ways to protect free speech while protecting the public.

"With these shared principals comes a shared expectation that peaceful protesters, community leaders and clergy will work with law enforcement to identify individuals intent on causing violence and committing crimes so that law enforcement may address those individuals in order to protect public safety," Nixon said. "As I said before, violence will not be tolerated. The residents and businesses of this region will be protected."

Part of that dialogue is listening to complaints from protesters about law enforcement's actions, especially the perceived militarization of police officers.

"We would prefer to be relaxed as often as we can," Belmar said. "We understand that people say that, 'Listen, when you put riot gear on and different things like that, it agitates us.' But frankly, we haven't hurt anybody with a riot helmet yet. They're worn on heads and it just helps to protect the officers."

Even as Nixon and law enforcement leaders presented a united front stressing peace and safety, the KKK was at work with its version of law and order.

The white supremacist group posted a flyer on the "Ferguson Scanner Updates" page on Facebook, which gives live updates from EMS and police scanners in the Ferguson area.

The KKK addressed the flyer "To the terrorists masquerading as 'peaceful protesters.'" The Klan threatened violent protesters that it would use "lethal force as provided under Missouri Law" to defend itself.

The statement reinforced the region's concern about the possibility of widespread violence. But Nixon is adamant that such behavior will not be tolerated.

"This is America," Nixon said. "People have a right to express their views and grievances, but they do not have the right to put their fellow citizens and their property at risk."

Follow @@joeharris_stl
Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.