Tensions Ease As Highway Patrol Captain Marches With Ferguson Protesters

Protesters continued to gather, demanding justice for the unarmed 18-year-old who was killed by police on Saturday. Under the command of Capt. Ron Johnson, however, military-style police equipment, tear gas and rubber bullets were absent from the St. Louis suburb as evening fell.

1. A day after tear gas and fireworks left Ferguson, Missouri, looking like a war zone, photos and video showed a remarkably different scene Thursday.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Thursday named Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson to oversee security in Ferguson. Johnson made his priorities immediately clear: He would not tolerate looting or attacks on businesses. But he also would not violate residents and journalists’ right to assemble and “speak their minds.”

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2. Protesters continued to gather, calling for peace and justice for Michael Brown, the teen who was fatally shot by police on Saturday.

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3. Johnson, who has headed the Highway Patrol division including St. Louis County since 2002, walked with protesters through Ferguson.

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4. He spoke with the crowd as they advanced, and he allowed them to continue their progress.

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According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Johnson grew up in the area. “I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and I understand and respect both of those,” he told marchers and reporters on Thursday.

His East Central Missouri command is the largest in the state, including 11 counties. Johnson oversees 147 uniformed officers as well as 136 uniformed civilians and 21 civilian employees, according to the highway patrol.

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6. The change in tone between police and protesters was dramatic, journalists reported.

Lone officer directs traffic as crowd turns east on Chambers. #Ferguson

— Casey Nolen KSDK (@CaseyNolen)
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#Ferguson last night versus tonight.

— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly)
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Revolutionary idea: the police are chatting to people

— Jon Swaine (@jonswaine)
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Hundreds peacefully protesting. Leader says about police: "they respect us, let's respect them." #ferguson

— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery)
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Very minimal police presence, feeling of exuberance and peacefulness among the crowd. What a difference a day makes.

— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes)
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St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson taking a selfie with a protestor. This is a CHANGED atmosphere. #Ferguson

— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche)
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12. County prosecutor Bob McCulloch told a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter the governor’s removal of county police was illegal. McCulloch is heading a local investigation into the shooting, and an FBI investigation is also underway.

#MikeMike "Nixon denigrated the men and women of the County Police Department and what they've done." --McCulloch

— paul hampel (@phampel)
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#MikeMike "I have great respect for Capt. Johnson. And I hope I am wrong but I think Nixon's action put a lot of people in danger."McCulloch

— paul hampel (@phampel)
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Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.