Get ready for a real militarization in Ferguson, Missouri. After two nights of unrest following a softer approach by the state highway patrol, Governor Jay Nixon has ordered the National Guard to deploy in Ferguson to enforce a midnight curfew. Nixon blamed outside agitators for the continuing confrontations in the street after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager suspected of taking part in a strongarm robbery just before the fatal confrontation:
Missouri’s governor said on Monday he would send the National Guard into the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson to restore calm after authorities forcibly dispersed a crowd protesting last week’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by police.
Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order deploying the U.S. state militia, saying demonstrators had thrown Molotov cocktails and shot at police as well as a civilian, a description of the night’s events diverging widely from some eyewitness accounts.
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said in a statement on his website.
The commander of the state highway patrol, Captain Ron Johnson, went from hero to enemy in a few short hours after ordering action against would-be rioters before the curfew went into effect:
In a local church, people gave a standing ovation on Sunday afternoon to Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
But hours later on W. Florissant Ave. — near where Officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed Michael Brown with six bullets — Johnson was seen as the enemy. …
The people of Ferguson rose to their feet and exploded in applause. They needed a hero.
But by 11 p.m., and a mile away, a small band of protesters again clashed with Capt. Johnson’s highway cops.
Police claim they were assaulted. They responded with tear gas.
Johnson explained why police, after falling back the previous night and allowing rioters to go on a rampage, responded with teargas and a more aggressive strategy last night and this morning. In part, Johnson insisted, it had to do with police forces defending themselves from attack by Molotov cocktails, as well as protecting the public and property:
Sunday night marked the second evening of a state-imposed midnight-5 a.m. curfew Nixon put in place, a decision he said was necessary to prevent looters from doing more damage but has been criticized by many in the Ferguson community and elsewhere.
Police officials have acknowledged that they fired several smoke canisters and at least one tear gas canister Sunday, and many of the hundreds of officers in Ferguson Sunday evening appeared in riot gear. Protesters said the police acted without being provoked, while the police reported that they were responding to gunfire and Molotov cocktails thrown by members of the crowd. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said one protester shot another and that the victim was listed in critical condition early Monday morning. He also said he was forced to “elevate the level” of police response after some crowd members threw bottles at officers.
In other Ferguson news, the Brown family released the results of a private autopsy conducted on a pro bono basis by Michael Baden. Brown was hit by at least six bullets in the shooting — but none of the bullets struck him from behind, as his friend claimed:
— New Day (@NewDay) August 18, 2014
“There were at least six entry wounds, there might have been seven, but we’ll have to correlate that with what was found in the first autopsy,” Baden, who retired from the New York state police in 2011, told the Wall Street Journal.
He cautioned against drawing conclusions from the autopsy. “Right now there is too little information to forensically reconstruct the shooting,” he told the Times, but added: “In my capacity as the forensic examiner for the New York State Police, I would say, ‘You’re not supposed to shoot so many times.’”
He also told the Times about Brown’s head wounds.
“This one here looks like his head was bent downward,” he said, indicating a wound at the top of Brown’s head. “It can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer.”
Baden, 80, a veteran medical examiner who has performed 20,000 autopsies, reviewed the autopsies of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and hosted the HBO show “Autopsy,” said the bullets hit Brown in the front, but the absence of gunpowder showed they were not fired at close range. Baden also said nothing indicated Brown had been in an altercation. This seems to contradict the statements of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who said the officer now identified as Darren Wilson grabbed Brown’s neck with one hand and shot him with the other.
So do the direction of the bullets. Johnson had claimed that Brown was running away with his hands up when he was shot. The hands-up posture has been adopted by protestors in Ferguson as a rebuke to the police for the shooting. However, the autopsy finding about the shot to the arm appears to contradict that part of Johnson’s statement as well:
The teen was struck once in the top of head, once in the forehead and four times in the arm, Dr. Baden said. Some of the shots to his arm went through the limb and entered his chest and lungs, according to Dr. Baden, who served for 25 years in the medical examiner’s office in New York City and another 25 years with the New York State Police before entering private practice.
If Brown’s arms were up when he was shot, then Johnson’s claim seems difficult to reconcile with this evidence, although Brown’s arms could have come down between shots, too. The lack of gunpowder suggests that Brown was at least some distance from Officer Darren Wilson when he was shot, though, which intensifies the question about the use of lethal force, given that Brown was unarmed at the time.
However, at least in Baden’s autopsy — performed on behalf of Brown’s family — Wilson didn’t shoot Brown as he fled, as Johnson claimed. That claim played a large part in stoking the rage that led to the riots. Perhaps the Department of Justice thinks it will find something more than Baden did in his autopsy, but Baden’s report and its provenance will be difficult to refute. Maybe the National Guard can calm the situation long enough for everyone to catch their breath and catch up to the facts in the case.