Ferguson calms after Holder visit

FERGUSON, Mo.— Protests along the street where an unarmed black teen was slain were considerably calmer Wednesday night after Attorney General Eric Holder visited with community leaders and the parents of Michael Brown, whose death sparked rioting.

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The crowd of protesters on West Florissant Avenue was smaller and calmer compared to the previous evening, when police in riot gear wielded batons and assault rifles to control the flow of people.

Holder said earlier in the day that he hoped his visit would have “a calming influence” on the area.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who has taken charge of the large police presence summoned from around the state to Ferguson, said Holder’s visit gave people confidence that their demands for justice are making progress.

“I believe it lets this community know that their voices have been heard by the top law officer in the land,” he told reporters early Thursday morning.

Police made only six arrests Wednesday and early Thursday morning, compared to 47 arrests made the night before. An officer was struck by a water bottle, but there were no Molotov cocktails thrown, blazes set or shots fired.

Several people were arrested for failing to comply with orders to disperse.

The crowd Wednesday was smaller than on the previous evening, which was in turn smaller than Monday’s crowd.

“Tonight was a very good night in Ferguson,” Johnson said after the 11th straight night of protests since Brown, an 18-year-old local resident, was killed by a white police officer on Aug. 9.

Johnson thanked community leaders for working with police to rein in provocative acts from protesters.

Acting as President Obama’s emissary, Holder met with more than 50 community leaders earlier in the day at Florissant Valley Community College to hear their concerns about what many residents view as heavy-handed tactics by local law enforcement.

He also met privately with Brown’s parents for 20 minutes at the Eagleton federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis and promised them a “fair and independent inquiry” into their son’s death.

The predominantly African-American crowd of dissidents, however, gave Holder little credit, explaining the peaceful evening as the product of fatigue after 10 straight nights of stand-offs with the police and a deluge of rain at around 9 p.m. that kept people off the streets.

Bishop Timothy Woods of the First Free Will Baptist Church, who attended Wednesday’s protests to encourage peaceful demonstrating, said many protesters were encouraged by the presentation of evidence to a grand jury earlier in the day.

“There’s some form of movement to the case,” he said.

He also noted that people had been protesting throughout the day and some had gone home to rest up for the next day.

Artez Hurston, age 34, said many young African-American males did not want to return to the commercial strip where protesters have squared off against police because they were “tired of getting tear-gassed” and “tired of being locked up.”

He said most protesters don’t want to return after being arrested, although he acknowledged his own arrest earlier in the week did not stop him from coming back.

Isaiah Daefort, age 18 and cloaked in a black mask, said an intense rain storm at around 9 p.m. dissuaded many people from joining the protest.

“The rain did it,” he said. “People thought it was going to thunderstorm.”

Johnson, however, dismissed the rain as the reason underlying the relatively calm night.

“Earlier in the week we had heavier rain than we had tonight and we sustained it longer and the crowds did not leave. Before the rain came, we [saw] a calm in the crowd,” he said.

Holder wrote an op-ed this week vowing to conduct a “fair and thorough” investigation into Brown’s death and urged protesters to refrain from violence.

“Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice,” he wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He told FBI agents at the St. Louis field office Wednesday that he had assembled a “very experienced” team of prosecutors and agents to examine whether local police violated Brown’s civil rights.

He has deployed 40 FBI agents for the job.

Holder flew back to Washington after the meetings.

Follow Alexander Bolton's tweets and photos from Ferguson 

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