A stunning change in tone radiated through the suburban streets where protests had turned violent each of the last four evenings following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But Thursday night, when more than a thousand protesters descended on the remains of QuickTrip – which was burned during riots on Sunday – they had a new leader.
The man at the front of the march, was Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a Ferguson native. “I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson declared to reporters. Johnson, a towering African American man who wiped sweat from his brow as he pointed out neighborhood hangouts and restaurants he used to frequent, was put in charge of crowd control earlier in the day, replacing the St. Louis County police who had been overseeing the police response to the protests.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) announced Thursday afternoon that Johnson would take over security, and vowed that officers would take a different approach to handling the massive crowds that have taken to Ferguson’s streets each night.
Not only did Johnson march with the protesters, but he vowed to not blockade the street, to set up a media staging center, and to ensure that residents’ rights to assemble and protest were not infringed upon. Officers working crowd control, he said, have been told they must take off their gas masks. “When I see a young lady cry because of fear of this uniform, that’s a problem.” Johnson said. “We’ve got to solve that.”