The removal of the curfew by Gov. Jay Nixon and the arrival of the National Guard didn’t improve matters in Ferguson overnight. Police deployed teargas and arrested 31 people as protestors filled the streets, while two people were shot — although not by police. According to Captain Ron Johnson, who has been in command on the ground, police never fired a shot, even though they were under “heavy fire” during the night:
“What had begun as a calm evening and a standoff between cops and some demonstrators … turned in a flash, and smoke bombs and tear gas were thrown at the crowds to disperse the crowd,” she said. “The crowd started rushing back. I happened to see the smoke bombs or tear gas being thrown in both directions because some of the demonstrators actually picked up what was thrown at them and threw them back at police.”
Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in charge of security in Ferguson, said officers didn’t fire a single bullet “despite coming under heavy attack.” He said four St. Louis County police officers were hit by rocks and bottles and sustained injury. He said “criminals” in the crowd fired shots and threw Molotov cocktails at officers.
“These criminal acts came from a tiny minority of lawbreakers,” Johnson said. “But anyone who has been at these protests understands that there is a dangerous dynamic in the night. It allows a small number of violent agitators to hide in the crowd and then attempt to create chaos.”
As of 2 a.m. Tuesday, 31 people had been arrested, some of whom came as far away as new York and California, Johnson said. Police also said two people were shot, but police officers weren’t involved in those incidents, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The Post-Dispatch also reported on the weapons confiscated by police during the night, which included a couple of handguns and a Molotov cocktail. Johnson asked Ferguson residents to restrict their protests to daylight hours so that police could deal with the “violent agitators” from outside the community who are exploiting the situation:
Johnson said the weapons were confiscated from “violent agitators” who were using other peaceful protests as “cover” to cause conflicts with police.
“This nation is watching each and every one of us,” said Johnson, who was visibly angry and emotional during the news conference. “I am not going to let the criminals that have come here from across this country, or live in this neighborhood, define this community.”
He had a few words for reporters, too, who had a few words in return:
Johnson also lectured reporters at the scene, telling them they were interfering with police and putting themselves in danger by failing to immediately clear areas when asked to by officers. He also implored reporters to “not glamorize the acts of criminals.”
Some reporters at the news conference pushed back, saying he was infringing on their ability to do their jobs by asking them to stay separate from protesters.
The National Guard troops that arrived in Ferguson yesterday did not take part in the police effort last night. The Washington Post’s Emily Badger wonders whether they’ve become obsolete in the era of a more militarized police presence:
“Whether it was the Vietnam riots, the Civil Rights era, it made an impression when the National Guard showed up,” says Michael D. Doubler, a historian and retired Army officer who has written a definitive history of the National Guard. “They were different. They had different capabilities. They looked different.”
Today, as the Missouri National Guard deploys to the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where protesters and police have clashed nightly since the shooting last week of an unarmed black teen by a white officer, the distinctions are less apparent. This assignment, requested early Monday by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D), sits squarely within the traditional mission of the National Guard., even as the public has come to better recognize this part-time force for its full-time roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The domestic environment that the Guard enters in Ferguson, though, has changed. The local police now look an awful lot more like the military. And the situation on the ground already resembles a conflict in the late stages of law enforcement escalation. If the National Guard is supposed to bring the power, equipment and gravity of the military, it looks as if it’s already there.
“When the National Guard shows up in this domestic role, it is a sign to people in the local community that a higher authority is exerting its power here, whether it be the governor or the president, and hopefully now we’re going to get all this sorted out. That’s a very important thing,” Doubler says. “I hope we haven’t lost that.”
The difference is the authority level more than the heightened capabilities. The National Guard’s thunder may have been partially stolen by the previous arrival of the Missouri Highway Patrol, which also operates under the authority of the governor. The issue in both cases was to assert a higher authority than the city and county levels, which had lost the confidence of local residents. There is still plenty of value in that escalation, but only insofar as local residents have confidence in the governor to restore order and justice in all directions.
Unfortunately,that doesn’t appear to be the case so far, perhaps in no small part because it may not be locals who are causing the problems. Until they can end the magnet that’s attracting agitators from around the country to exploit the situation and perpetuate it for their own ends, the actual people of Ferguson will be in for a long nightmare, and the longer it goes the less confidence they will have in law enforcement at any level.