Missouri National Guard troops are deployed Aug. 19 to provide protection for a police command center in Ferguson, Mo. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO. — After a night of relative calm, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered National Guard troops to begin a “systematic” withdrawal from this St. Louis suburb that has been wracked by angry protests for almost two weeks over the police shooting of an unarmed teenager.
Nixon sent the troops into Ferguson on Monday to provide protection for state troopers and police trying to cope with increasingly violent streets demonstrations.
The soldiers set up checkpoints in and out of the police Command Center, which is located in a shopping center about a quarter mile away from the site of most of the protests.
“I greatly appreciate the men and women of the Missouri National Guard for successfully carrying out the specific, limited mission of protecting the Unified Command Center so that law enforcement officers could focus on the important work of increasing communication within the community, restoring trust, and protecting the people and property of Ferguson,” Nixon said in a statement.
“As we continue to see improvement, I have ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin a systematic process of withdrawing from the City of Ferguson,” he said.
Tensions eased on the first night of beefed up forces followed by one more spurt of angry protests over the fatal shooting Aug. 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson. Since Tuesday, the protests have grown steadily quieter and calmer.
By 12:30 a.m. local time Thursday, many of the 150 protesters who had paced back and forth on Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue had gone home, tensions defused by community leaders, a more relaxed posture by police, the arrival of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and evening rain and lightning storms.
“Tonight was a very good night for Ferguson,” said Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who thanked community leaders, clergy, teens and law enforcement officials. Police made six arrests, compared with 47 arrests Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. “We saw a different crowd that came out tonight ... less agitators,” Johnson said.
Dasha Jones, 19, marched with a sign that read, “The Whole Damn System is Guilty.” She said she saw Brown’s body lying in the street for hours after his death. The image traumatized her.
“I feel like that could have been any one of my family members,” said Jones, who has been protesting since the day Brown was killed. “I’m not tired because he doesn’t have justice,” she said.
Holder, speaking in Washington on Thursday, said he found a “real fracture” among the people of Ferguson during his brief visit but also “a desire to be seen as equals, a real desire to have healing.”
“Out of this tragedy comes a great opportunity to reforming that community,” he told reporters.
The attorney general also said the Justice Department was “keeping all options open” in its review of the Ferguson shooting, including a possible examination of whether the local police department engaged in a pattern of excessive conduct.
During the day, about 150 other protesters rallied Thursday outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, demanding that St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who is presenting the Michael Brown shooting to a grand jury, be removed from the case.
The panel is investigating whether Wilson should be criminally charged in the case. The group planned to deliver 70,000 signatures from people around the USA calling for McCulloch’s removal.
McCulloch said in a statement that he has “no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community.”
Instead, he urged those seeking his removal to make their demands to the governor, a Democrat, who he says has the authority to remove him under the emergency declaration Nixon declared.
“Although I strongly believe that such action would be a mistake on the part of the governor, I do urge all seeking my removal to express those demands to the governor.”
Missouri State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, said, “He made a commitment that if the governor removes him, he will not fight it. The pressure is now on the governor.”
Contributing: Jonathan Shorman, of the Springfield News-Leader