At its core, the story of Mike Brown and Ferguson, Mo. is one of police brutality. On Thursday, August 14, Jelani Cobb, the Director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut and a contributor to The New Yorker, wrote, “whatever happened to Michael Brown in the moments before he died has become secondary to what the response to his death has revealed.” The response to the death of the unarmed teenager, Cobb wrote, revealed that “law enforcement is capable of gross overreaction.” On Wednesday, news feeds were taken over by images and video of streets filled with tear gas and officers throwing flash grenades at protestors demanding to know why the officer responsible for the death of a high school graduate due to start college this week was still unnamed.
Things changed on Thursday when Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, ordered state troopers to relieve Ferguson police of their duty and to take over security in the small town. Nixon placed Captain Ron Johnson, who has acted as a calming force, in charge. Johnson, who’s been captain since 2002, could be seen marching with protestors, shaking hands with local residents, and reassuring the masses that their voices and concerns will be heard. His effect was immediately felt, as the protests on Thursday night were much more jovial and peaceful. As we reported earlier, those who lined Florissant Road acted in an orderly fashion, chanting and marching with one another while music blared from cars parked along the street. Those on the scene admitted that this night was notedly different than days prior.
The next morning, many thought the peaceful vibe would dissipate after the Ferguson Police Department released security photos and footage of a man believed to be Michael Brown allegedly robbing a convince store for $49 worth of cigars and fighting with a store employee. The revelation came during a press conference held at the QuikTrip gas station which was burned down by protestors earlier in the week. During the conference, the name of the officer who shot Brown was finally revealed. The event left those in attendance bewildered and angry. People on the scene told us that they felt this was all an attempt to demonize the young man whose life was taken. Others told us that him stealing from a store had no bearing whatsoever on him being shot by Darren Wilson.
The St. Louis government, the group think went, did not have the community’s interests at heart and could not be at all trusted. Despite the rising tensions, however, peace was maintained. At the QuickTrip, groups of people used colorful chalk to write empowering messages to the Brown family and other young black men who may be fearful of the authorities. Some made T-shirts. There was a group of women from an organization called Black Girls Rock handing out cold water and snacks to anyone who was thirsty or hungry. A mother and daughter encouraged people to sign up to vote, telling people the only way to affect change is to change who's in charge. In the midst of it all was Major Ronnie Robinson from the St. Louis City police force who fielded questions from protestors and residents. Complex News spoke with Major Robinson about police accountability, how to foster better community relations, and what cops around the world can learn from Ferguson.
Stay tuned to Complex News for more developments from Ferguson, Mo.
Correction: Earlier we stated that Major Ronnie Robison was a part of the St. Louis State Police Department. He is a major with the St. Louis County Police Department.