Hundreds of people protesting a police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager marched peacefully Thursday alongside state troopers in Ferguson, Missouri as the Highway Patrol took over supervising security in the city.
Several of the marchers stopped to shake hands with police and troopers, and some stopped to hug and chat with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Highway Patrol, who is overseeing security. The scene stood in stark contrast to clashes earlier this week when officers wore riot gear.
The latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell –the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.
“You can feel it. You can see it,” protester Cleo Willis said of the change. “Now it’s up to us to ride that feeling.”
“All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas,” said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. “This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect.”
Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday that Johnson would oversee security after the local police response to the violent protests drew heavy criticism. Crowds have gathered since Saturday’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Nixon said the change is intended to make sure “that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately.”
Johnson, who is black, said he grew up in the community and “it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence.”
“Ferguson will not be defined as a community that was torn apart by violence but will be known as a community that pulled together to overcome it,” Nixon said at a news conference.
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