FERGUSON, Mo. — Ferguson remained at peace after nightfall Thursday for the first time since Michael Brown was killed. And protesters’ demand to know the name of the officer who shot him was met.
Brown, an African-American teen, was shot to death Saturday. Police have said the shooting occurred during a struggle for the officer’s gun. Witnesses have said Brown’s arms were raised when he was shot.
On Friday morning, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer was Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the force. The officer has no history of issues within the department, Jackson said.
After days of sometimes violent protests, the Missouri State Highway Patrol took over security for the protests.
Gone were the military gear and vehicles, the stun grenades, plastic pellets and tear gas police deployed on previous nights. So were the Molotov cocktails, sounds of gunfire and strife from protesters who had wandered among peaceful demonstrators.
The crowds swelled and became more diverse on Thursday; their chants for justice accompanied a concert of honking car horns, and though their cause was somber, their mood was buoyant.
Despite the celebrated change in tone after his department stepped back, Jackson said Friday he is not going to resign, as some critics have suggested he do.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay and see this through,” he said.
Highway patrol Capt. Ron Johnson is now in charge, at the request of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
“We have different approach that we’re using this evening,” he said. Smiling instead of scowling is key. “I’ve smiled more today than I have in the past few days.”
Maj. Ronnie Robinson from the St. Louis City Police is working with Johnson. He underlined the importance of dialog with residents. “We feel the pain in the community,” he said. They can protest 24 hours, if they want to.
He also insisted there will be law and order. No looting, no vandalizing. State troopers will protect small businesses, he said. And protesters may not block the streets.
Despite the new tone by authorities, some protesters said they were prepared for police aggression.
“Gas me, shoot me, I will stand my ground,” one sign read.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who was arrested at a demonstration in Ferguson on Wednesday, said he’s noticed the new tone.
“Really, it has been the police presence, the heavy-handed presence, which has escalated the situation, and I think led to the violence each night. And so it’s good to see this new approach,” he said.
The officer’s name
Jackson said a crucial bit of information will emerge Friday morning — the name of the officer.
Protesters have demanded to find out who he is since the shooting.
Earlier, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar was less definite about when the name would be released, although he said it’s up to Ferguson police.
“It’s being discussed at the very highest levels,” Belmar said. “We’re probably going to learn something in the next day or two.”
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit seeking the release of the officer’s name under the state’s open records law.
Missouri law provides a specific exemption barring the release of records that authorities conclude are “likely to pose a clear and present danger” to victims, witnesses or others.
Officials say police officers, and others in the administration and police force, have received death threats.
Ferguson’s police department has been criticized for a lack of ethnic diversity. The St. Louis suburb’s population is two thirds African-American. Of the police force’s 53 officers, only six are African-American.
An eyewitness has said that the officer who shot Brown was Caucasian.
Both Johnson and Robinson are African-American. Though he believes in ethnic diversity and would like to see more in Ferguson’s police force, Robinson did not peg it to skin color but to a person’s ability to understand people’s culture and communicate with them.
“You’ve got to give respect to get respect,” he said.
Authorities have said that the change of appearance of the police force was intentional.
As Robinson spoke, a group of young Caucasian men behind him held up a sign calling for justice for Brown.
The city was a “powder keg,” Jackson said earlier Thursday, before the change of guard in security arrangements, which the U.S. Justice Department had influenced. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that local authorities had accepted the department’s help.
Upset residents gathered to protest Browns killing as soon as his body lay in the street on Saturday.
No one has disputed that Brown was unarmed. But police say he tried to grab the officer’s gun, something two witnesses dispute. They say that the officer fired on the 18-year-old as he tried to distance himself and raised his hands into the air.
Demonstrations have continued since, turning into a ruckus after nightfall, and violence has broken out. Police have detained dozens, including two journalists.
President Barack Obama on Thursday called for peace from all sides.
“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” he said. “There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Brown’s killing has gained attention around the world and moved people to protest in other U.S. cities on Thursday. In Los Angeles and in New York, hundreds gathered to demand justice for Brown.
The Los Angeles protests included commemoration for Ezell Ford, an African-American youth recently killed there. In New York, police formed a line to halt the march, WABC reported.
They told the crowd to disperse and arrested a few people.