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National Guard begins withdrawing from Ferguson after 2nd calm night in a row

Published time: August 22, 2014 19:33
National Guard troops stand at a staging area located at a shopping center parking lot in Ferguson, Missouri August 21, 2014. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

National Guard troops stand at a staging area located at a shopping center parking lot in Ferguson, Missouri August 21, 2014. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

Ferguson, Missouri remained relatively calm for the second night in a row. With only isolated arrests Wednesday and Thursday nights, a drawdown of the National Guard troops assigned with keeping the peace began Friday.

“[A] sense of normalcy” returned to the area along West Florissant Avenue ‒ the epicenter of continued protests against the police ‒ on Thursday. “People strolled to stores and city buses were back on schedule,” USA Today reported.

Local clergy and civic leaders worked to keep the events of the night orderly, urging protesters to remain peaceful and to return to their homes after dark, the Associated Press wrote. Demonstrations have occurred since the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson last Saturday.

"It was another good night,'' Missouri State Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said at a 1 a.m. briefing. "We're heading toward a sense of peace for our community. Through 12:30 a.m., there were just seven arrests, including five for failing to disperse.”

After Wednesday night passed without outbreaks of violence, looting or arrests of media members, Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.) ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing Friday. The governor had called up the guard early Monday morning, in an effort to protect state troopers and police dealing with the often-violent demonstrations.

The Missouri Highway Patrol under Johnson ‒ an African-American ‒ took over crowd control duties from the local Ferguson unit last Thursday after protesters denounced the department’s use of excessive force and pointed to historic tension between the suburb’s almost-exclusively white police department and majority-black community.

Yet when curfews and shifting police tactics failed to calm the unrest that brought nightly demonstrations by peaceful protesters chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as well as violence and looting, Nixon brought in the state’s military.

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, according to USA Today.

"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.

Early Wednesday morning was the last time that major unrest broke out, with nearly 50 arrested in the hours before US Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in the city. The head of the Justice Department met with Brown's parents and other residents, and reviewed the status of a federal civil rights investigation he had ordered into Brown's slaying.

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant in Florrissant, Missouri August 20, 2014. (Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool)

In remarks released by the Justice Department, Holder told area leaders that, as an African-American, he can understand the community’s frustration.

“I understand that mistrust. I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man,” Holder said. “I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over…. ‘Let me search your car’… Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

Rain and high temperatures may have contributed in keeping crowds from congregating Wednesday night, but as Thursday night passed with relative calm, Johnson hinted that the city of around 21,000 residents had turned a corner.

"Isn't it a better sight ... when we can see a table with a coloring book, a box of crayons and a sock puppet, instead of weapons and Molotov cocktails?" Johnson told reporters.

"This is truly the community of Ferguson. We are headed toward a sense of peace for our community," he said.

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