(Now there’s a headline that would have sounded weird 40 years ago.)
FERGUSON, Mo. — Suddenly, everything has changed.
The heavy riot armor, the SWAT trucks with sniper posts, the hostile glares: tonight in Ferguson they were gone.
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.
“Thank you so much for being here,” said Karen Wood, who fought back tears as she held both of Johnson’s hands imploring him to bring answers to residents and maintain calm in the streets.
“This is about human rights, about human beings,” she cried. “It takes cooperation…our youth are out here without guidance, without leadership.”
Moments later, as he rallied the crowd and demanded justice and information about the shooting, the man with the megaphone declared:
“They respect us,” referring to police. “ So let’s respect them. They’ve given us the sidewalk so lets stay out of their street.”
It’s as though people behave like human beings when you treat them like human beings, and like angry subject peoples when you treat them like animals. Who knew?
Anyway, really, really good to see. An answer to prayer. God be praised through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Next: A really cold hard look at the militarization of our police and a rollback of the stupid policies and training that created (and will create more of) this kind of Iron Curtain treatment of citizens as enemy combatants. Somebody in the state needs to be severely punished for this.