While Ferguson remains under a state of emergency, Gov. Jay Nixon has ordered a gradual withdrawal of approximately 200 Missouri National Guard troops that have been assisting the state Highway Patrol this week.
He said Thursday that he based his decision on an improved situation following more than a week of looting and riots triggered by the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Nixon spoke by phone with St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin on his order to begin withdrawing the National Guard and on the overall situation in Ferguson:
Why did you decide to order a withdraw three days after ordering the National Guard deployment?
“The last two nights we’ve seen good, solid progress … they were brought in for a limited mission; that limited mission was to provide security to the command post … with the last two good nights, we just thought, I believe, the beginning of that systematic withdrawal was the right thing to do.”
Michael Brown’s funeral is next Monday (Aug. 25) … why not wait on (starting) the withdrawal until this weekend (or after) the funeral?
“That mission that (the National Guard) were called up on was to provide security for the command post, (and) we’re making progress on that particular mission … we will maintain the resources necessary to protect public safety as well as people’s rights to speak, but that was not the (National Guard’s) primary (mission) … the Unified Command under (Missouri Highway Patrol) Col. Ron Replogle and Capt. (Ronald) Johnson is focused on security in that zone. … We’re going to continue to monitor the situation, and we’re trying to make sure we balance this so we have the (right amount of) force in place.”
A quick two-part question: How many National Guard soldiers were sent, and do we have an idea how much it’s going to cost the state?
“I don’t have the numbers … the original call-up was around 200 (soldiers) … we spent a fair amount of time making sure that a high, high, high percentage of those were trained MPs with police experience … we’ll get the dollar (amounts) on this on the backside … right now we’re still in the field, and we’ll continue to work on this mission to keep security and safety in that region.”
Did (Wednesday) night’s weather play any role?
“It doesn’t hurt to have a little rain, but I think what you’re seeing here is, with these outside instigators coming in, the local community (is) standing up, too, and saying ‘while we want to have some First Amendment things to say, we don’t want violence’ … that wouldn’t honor the reason they’re there, and a number of local pastors, local elected leaders and others are continuing to show a great deal of strength and courage to get out there on the front lines and keep things under control.”
Are you planning to stick with Mr. (Bob) McCulloch as the prosecutor, or do you plan on bringing in someone new?
“When there are challenges in democracy, I try to focus on the pillars of those democracies, and one of those is locally elected prosecutors that make decisions in a transparent fashion. … I think it’s especially made a little easier here with a separate federal investigation, so no, that’s not on my list of things I’m focused on, that’s for sure.”
Have you learned any lessons regarding what has happened in the past nearly two weeks (since) Michael Brown’s death, and what has happened since then?
“You have to be agile here. … I think some folks on the outside of this say, ‘you’re shifting here or there.’… We needed, in my view, to begin to separate the folks that were legitimately expressing their First Amendment rights (from) those who had come to incite and do criminal acts … and one of the ways to do that was to lay out a time, that curfew we put in, to get a clear line so that we could begin to see who was there. … It was not meant to be confrontational, it was meant to say ‘let’s try that’ … and when we saw the effect of the folks that were just there to violate the law or incite sticking around, it gave us an advantage. … And we pulled that (curfew), because it had served its legitimate tactical purpose. …
I think Capt. Johnson says it well, (that) we’re out there protecting people’s right to speak, but we want to do it in a way that they are safe. … The officers that are out there at night in dangerous situations have had shots fired over them early on, had Molotov cocktails (thrown at them) early on … those things seem to be calming down, and hence the decision to begin the systematic withdrawal of the (National) Guard. …
When you talk about issues involving race and education and poverty and policing, these are difficult and challenging issues that we will hopefully learn a little more (about). … The thing I’ve been telling folks is to listen – that’s one of reasons we organized a training session for teachers on mental health issues. … I went by a library now being used as a daycare center to see and thank those teachers, and sat down with local elected representatives again. …
I think we can learn a lot, but in these tough issues, in order to get some trust, people also have to listen to opinions that they don’t necessarily agree with, so that they can find common ground to move to a better, peaceful place.”
A “vigorous prosecution,” that line has been thrown around as far as the officer who fatally shot Michael Brown…”
“What I meant, in my years of experience as attorney general, I was talking about all the duties of prosecutions and investigation, and in order to make sure that justice is served it’s important that there be a vigorous process through the entirety of that … That’s all I meant, I certainly didn’t prejudge, I’ve not seen the evidence, and that was certainly not my intent.”
Anything else you want to throw in?
“We appreciate all the local folks and the ministers and others that are out there talking about peace and respect. … We’ve made solid progress since I gave the unprecedented order to come in and put a different type of security regiment in place, and I’d ask people to support those officers that are out there, and work with them as we move through this chapter in our history.”
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport