Obama calls for calm as protests continue in Missouri

  • Article by: MONICA DAVEY, JOHN ELIGON and ALAN BLINDER , New York Times
  • Updated: August 18, 2014 - 10:40 PM

National Guard deployed in Ferguson, Mo., and overnight curfew lifted.

– Missouri National Guard troops entered this battered city Monday even as an overnight curfew was lifted, the latest in a series of quickly shifting attempts to quell the violence that has upended Ferguson for 10 days.

In the days since a black teenager was shot to death by a white police officer Aug. 9, an array of state and local law enforcement authorities have swerved from one approach to another: taking to the streets in military-style vehicles and riot gear; then turning over power to a state Highway Patrol official who permitted the protests and marched along, then calling again for a curfew.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday he was calling in the National Guard. Hours later, he said he was lifting the curfew and said the Guard would have a limited role.

“While I understand the passions and anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown,” President Obama said in Washington, “giving in to that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions.”

The president said that Attorney General Eric Holder would go to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with FBI agents conducting a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Obama said he had told the governor in a phone call on Monday that the Guard should be “used in a limited and appropriate way.”

He said he would be closely monitoring the deployment.

“I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether in fact it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson,” said Obama, who emphasized that the state of Missouri, not the White House, had called in the Guard.

Before dark, along West Florissant Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and a center of the weeklong protests, scores of people marched peacefully, carrying signs and chanting. Officers herded some into a parking lot, where the police said protest was permitted.

A few blocks away, at the police command post, National Guard members, dressed in fatigues, some with military police patches on their uniforms, rolled up in buses and military vehicles.

Residents seemed puzzled and frustrated by the continuously changing approaches, suggesting that the moving set of rules were only serving to worsen long-standing tensions about policing and race.

“It almost seems like they can’t decide what to do, and like law enforcement is fighting over who’s got the power,” said Antione Watson, 37, who stood near a middle-of-the-street memorial of candles and flowers for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed here.

“First they do this, then there’s that, and now who can even tell what their plan is?” Watson said. “They can try all of this, but I don’t see an end to this until there are charges against the cop.”

Changes after tense night

The latest turn in law enforcement tactics — the removal of a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew imposed Saturday and the arrival of the Guard — followed one of the tensest nights in Ferguson so far. Police officers reported incoming gunfire and firebombs from protesters and responded with tear gas, smoke canisters and rubber bullets.

By Monday, the police seemed intent on taking control of the situation long before evening and the expected arrival of protesters, some of them inclined to provoke clashes. The authorities banned stationary protests, even during the day, ordering demonstrators to continue walking, particularly in an area along West Florissant, not far from where the shooting occurred. One of those told to move along was civil rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Six members of the Highway Patrol, plastic flex-ties within easy reach, stood guard at a barbecue restaurant that has been a hub of the turmoil. Just north of the restaurant, about 30 officers surrounded a convenience store that was damaged early in the unrest.

Several people were arrested, including a photographer for Getty Images, Scott Olson, who was led away in plastic handcuffs in the early evening and later released.

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