Highway Patrol take over from local police

 

The Missouri Highway Patrol is taking over security in a St. Louis suburb where residents have battled police for four nights after the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager.

The Highway Patrol will take control from the St. Louis County Police, who have come under heavy criticism nationally for their tactics in Ferguson, Mo.  

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Protests over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown have erupted in violence, with protestors saying police started the fighting by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at them, and police saying they were provoked with Molotov cocktails.

“My message to the people of Ferguson is that these voices have been heard,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said in making the announcement of the shift.

He stressed that Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American who grew up in Ferguson, would lead the new security efforts.

President Obama made his first public remarks about the violence on Thursday, and called for peace and calm.

“There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said in his comments from Martha’s Vineyard. “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

In his statement, Nixon insisted the change in duties did not reflect criticism of the county police who had been in charge.

Members of both parties have criticized local police for their tactics, and for relying on military-grade vehicles and weapons.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a TIME magazine op-ed accused Washington of “using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies.”

“The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm,” Paul said. “It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.”

There have been conflicting accounts of how Brown died, and police have released little information, including the name of the police officer involved and how many shots were fired in the incident.

The Justice Department has announced it will investigate the killing, and Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that his department had “already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene.”

“Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair,” Holder said.  

Some local officials have defended the local police in Ferguson.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told MSNBC he could not “second guess these officers.”

“It's not military, it's tactical operations. It's SWAT teams. That's who's out there — police. We're doing this in blue,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said, pushing back against criticism. 

But Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) said the police response seen in Ferguson “has become the problem instead of the solution.” 

McCaskill said that while she respected police working to provide safety, “my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.”

Asked Thursday evening about men in combat uniforms training their weapon sights on protesters, Nixon said, “That was yesterday. Tonight is tonight and tomorrow is tomorrow.”

He added that he was focused on “lowering the intensity of those direct interactions and potential risks.”

“Calm down, stand down, and let's be reasonable,” St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said when announcing a blue ribbon committee to review the situation and process. “I'm for justice, I'm not for revenge.

“In St. Louis County, the world is looking at us in how we treat our own,” he added. “It's going to take all of our agencies to make this situation better.”

This  story was updated at 5:20 p.m.