Nixon to relieve St. Louis County PD in Ferguson

Allahpundit mentioned this in his preview post on statements from both Barack Obama and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, but it’s a development that stands on its own as well. After the nation watched the militarized police response in Ferguson, the firing of teargas at non-violent protesters as well as media camera crews, and the arrests of two journalists at a McDonald’s, Nixon has had enough. He has relieved the St. Louis County police of authority over Ferguson:

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will announce that St. Louis County law enforcement will be relieved of duty in Ferguson, which has been roiled by protests after the shooting death by police of an unarmed teenager, according to Representative William Lacy Clay.

“The governor just called me, and he’s on his way to St. Louis now to announce he’s taking away St. Louis County police out of the situation,” Clay, a Missouri Democrat, said in a telephone interview. He added that Nixon may ask the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to step in.

Clay said that he has been urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “take over the entire situation because we will not get justice for Michael Brown and his family and friends if the St. Louis County police and prosecutor have a say.”

Who will replace them? So far, that’s not yet been determined — or at least not publicly. The FBI might take over the investigation of the Michael Brown shooting — the Department of Justice has already started their own overview of the case — but they aren’t designed for local law enforcement. The obvious solutions would either be a state police unit, or possibly a mix of officers from the surrounding communities under the command of state police.  Nixon could call out the National Guard, but that would be going from the frying pan into the fire. What’s needed in Ferguson now isn’t an escalation, but a demilitarization, as Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said within the last hour:

Nixon will speak at 3:00 ET today to announce the specific changes in a press conference, but he may well be asked why he allowed the situation to get this far out of hand in the first place. The images that came out of Ferguson starting early yesterday evening showed hints of police overreaction from the beginning. Snipers on top of tanks and personnel dressed in camouflage and body armor looked like something from Iraq, rather than domestic law enforcement trying to keep the peace.  And that was before police began arresting reporters on hand to cover the protests, and shooting teargas at them without provocation.

Reporters might want to question Nixon about whether the SLCPD felt they had the authority to shut down lawful protests and enforce a curfew. I’ve been puzzled about some reactions to the video of police arresting Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly at a McDonalds and the teargas attack on an Al Jazeera news crew for just standing on the sidewalk with their cameras. Some have suggested that these journalists didn’t respond to police orders to disperse, and were therefore subject to detention and counter-riot tactics. However, that’s only a legitimate argument when an emergency decree is in effect that explicitly authorizes police to act in such a manner. I’m unaware of any such declaration by Nixon, and if one does not exist, the police don’t have the authority to impose it themselves. Our whole system of civil rights is based on police being servants of the law, not on citizens being servants of the police based on their assessment of when we can and cannot exercise those rights. That includes pointing cameras at the police, and sitting in a public restaurant in a lawful manner.

The police in Ferguson appear to have behaved last night much more like an occupying army rather than a law-enforcement agency as well as looking the part, and that should be very disturbing to anyone who believes in limited government.

The police say they were provoked, but it also appears that they threw gas on this fire too with their heavy-handed response:

Two reporters said they were detained by police for not clearing out quickly enough from a McDonald’s where they were working, near the protests but away from the more volatile areas. The two, who work for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, were released without any charges. Both say they were assaulted but not seriously hurt.

Among those arrested was St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been chronicling the protests on social media.

“I think the heavy-handed approach by police is escalating the situation and more people are going to get hurt if this keeps up,” French told KMOX Radio. …

Residents in Ferguson have complained about the police response that began with the use of dogs for crowd control soon after Brown’s shooting – a tactic that for some invoked the civil rights protests from a half-century ago. The county police force took over, leading both the investigation of Brown’s shooting and the subsequent attempts to keep the peace at the smaller city’s request.

County Police Chief Jon Belmar said his officers have responded with “an incredible amount of restraint” as they’ve had rocks and bottles thrown at them, been shot at and had two dozen patrol vehicles destroyed.

Very clearly, this situation needs a rapid de-escalation. The SLCPD does not appear to be the agency to accomplish that at the moment, and it’s taken Nixon too long to get a grip on this crisis.

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