August 14th, 2014 shifted command from the St. Louis County Police to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. This shift in command and philosophy was promised by the Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the Highway Patrol was a part of all action up to this point. The philosophy articulated by Capt. Johnson should not reflect on the general mission of the MSHP.
During the week of August 9th in the lead up to August 14th, 2014, there were a number of opinions expressed in the news media and social media that were highly critical of the police response to the riots/looting/protests. Among the demands regularly listed were:
- -Remove St. Louis County Police and Ferguson Police from involvement in protest/looting/riot response.
- -Demilitarize the police used to respond to these scenes meaning:
- -No SWAT / Tactical units
- -No Riot Gear
- -No Rifles
- -No Tear Gas
- -No Less Lethal rounds
The rationale was that County Police, by virtue of appearance and tactics, were inciting the riots and causing far more harm than good. Capt. Johnson of MSHP apparently had a few addendums to this as well. In particular, it turned out that there was essentially not going to be any arrests. This allowed him to help fuel the narrative favored by the national media and the governor’s office, that “peace” was returning to Ferguson. He also made no reference to the fact that Thursday night resulted in the largest number of injured officers thus far. The fact that the no arrest policy stood in light of injured officers was shameful.
Interestingly, the following night on August 15th, the situation completely deteriorated and Highway Patrol Troopers had to be rescued from a crowd by St. Louis County’s Tactical Unit who were wearing riot gear, had rifles, and had to use tear gas in order to cover their escape when Johnson ordered that all units withdraw. The troopers were overwhelmed and injured because they lacked riot gear. In an interesting twist, the human skull doesn’t stand up to a beer bottle or brick quite as well as a helmet, which they weren’t allowed to wear. Afterward, the number of units limited to the zone were even more greatly reduced.
I was one of maybe a hundred officers who sat in the parking lot for nearly three hours after an aid call came out requesting assistance from everyone locally. While we sat, we could hear first precinct officers in the Florissant area attempting to deal with widespread looters who were moving throughout the area by vehicle.
At approximately 0430-0500 on the morning of August 16th, Johnson had all remaining units respond back to the CP. I assumed that the looting was pretty sparse and had died down. When we left at the same time of a number of other municipalities, I opted to drive down W. Florissant road to see for myself.
Not only were there still groups of angry people yelling obscenities and throwing things at the car, but the businesses were left completely unguarded with no one responding to the active looting within Ferguson. We witnessed a number of businesses with people walking in and out. I considered intervening but decided against it for the simple reason that even if we had arrested a few people, what were we going to do with them? It was clear at that point what the policy was and how a self dispatching pair of muni officers would be received. Johnson apparently decided to give Ferguson residents the benefit of the doubt, and his policies were an abject failure.
Witnessing the failure on the morning news, public opinion has started to shift from the soft touch preferred by the Captain and the Governor. A press conference on 08/16/2014 announced that effective that night, a curfew was now in effect from midnight to five AM. Johnson is promoting the premise that the curfew will be enforced with discussion and not force. It is now 2300 on 08/16/2014 and I just read a twitter message about the riots saying, “YOU CANT LOCK US ALL UP.”
Another woman asked an officer standing on the line if he knew where he was going to go when he died tonight.
Fortunately, storms in the area have seemed to curtail activity a little bit, though there have been no shortage of shootings, riotous crowds defying the curfew, and burglaries.
For the record, local politicians supporting the Johnson Doctrine have been:
- Jay Nixon, Governor
- Claire McCaskill, Senator
- Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County Executive
- Lacy Clay, Congressman
- Francis Slay, Mayor of St. Louis