GOP chairman criticizes Missouri governor

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Missouri Republican Party Chairman Ed Martin slammed Gov. Jay Nixon (D) for his handling of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., saying his absence initially “allowed a lot of terrible things to happen there.”

“The failure in this, when they write the history of it, lands directly in Jay Nixon’s lap,” Martin told The Hill on Monday. “For about 4-5 days there was no strong leadership when there was clear there was a need for it, when people were sort of flailing.”

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Nixon on Monday deployed the Missouri National Guard to Ferguson, after a particularly violent night of clashes between law enforcement and civilians, during which law enforcement used tear gas to control the crowds and looters and shots were fired by demonstrators.

It was the eighth day of unrest in the predominantly black suburb of St. Louis after the Aug. 9 killing of an unarmed black teenager by a Ferguson police officer. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot at least six times, according to an autopsy report released on Monday. 

Nixon defended his response on Friday. He said he had asked for a Department of Justice investigation and had “appeared in the community” every other day last week. His first physical visit to Ferguson, however, didn’t come until Thursday.

Martin said it was clear that Nixon “should’ve been asserting control and influence” in the area within a day of Brown’s shooting, when the unrest began to develop.

Martin said Nixon’s delayed response was just part of a trend from the governor, who he said is “well-known as an absentee governor.”

“He is a satire of a governor. The lack of leadership allowed a lot of terrible things to happen and has really put the law enforcement in a terrible bind,” he said.

He also slammed Nixon as “nonexistent to the communities of color,” who he noted voted overwhelmingly to elect the Democrat.

Local law enforcement has drawn widespread criticism for what many have seen as a too aggressive use of force against civilians in Ferguson.

Partly in response to those complaints, Nixon put the Missouri Highway Patrol in control of security of Ferguson on Thursday.

Martin acknowledged there were “mistakes” from law enforcement and that, in some cases, the military-grade weapons they were wielding were “maybe more than they needed,” and criticized the use of tear gas on Sunday night as “very unhelpful.” But he defended their efforts overall.

“It was so unclear how to handle the situation, there were mistakes for sure. But I think they acted in good faith,” he said.

“I think law enforcement is doing the best they can at assessing the issues. It’s not been perfect, but they’re trying to honor the issues.”