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National Guard Begins Ferguson Withdrawal

  • VOA News

The National Guard began pulling out Friday of the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, after tensions appeared to ease following the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer.

After nearly two weeks of unrest, for the second straight night no major clashes broke out between police and protesters late Thursday, though police did report at least seven arrests.

Missouri State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson called it "another good night" and said the community was "heading toward a sense of peace."

Situation improves

Missouri National Guard soldiers stand by at a police command post in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2014.

Missouri National Guard soldiers stand by at a police command post in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2014.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered the removal of the National Guard Thursday, saying the situation had "greatly improved with fewer incidents of outside instigators interfering with peaceful protesters, and fewer acts of violence."

The demonstrations have centered around the street where Michael Brown, 18, was killed on August 9. Police say Brown and officer Darren Wilson were involved in a struggle, but most witnesses say the shooting was unprovoked.

Many have complained that the police response to the protests has been heavy-handed.

Missouri Congressmen Lacy Clay and Emanuel Cleaver met Thursday with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to express their concerns about what they describe as the "militarization of local law enforcement agencies."

In a statement, the two representatives said they asked Hagel to review a program that sees surplus Defense Department weapons and other equipment distributed to local police. They say they hope the Ferguson incident can spur a national discussion about shifting local law enforcement "away from military-style responses" targeting peaceful protesters.

More than 150 people have been arrested in Ferguson since the protests began -- most of them for failing to disperse at the request of police.

Discrimination allegations

Brown's shooting has raised allegations of institutionalized discrimination and excessive use of force by police.

A grand jury began hearing evidence in the case on Wednesday and will determine whether to charge officer Wilson in the teen's death.

Wilson is on paid leave, with Brown's family and supporters calling for his arrest.

Brown's family and the protesters have also been calling for the removal of prosecutor Bob McCulloch, expressing concerns he will be biased. McCulloch's father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black man.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation into the shooting is ongoing.

In Washington Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assured protesters the civil rights probe was moving forward.

Attorney General Eric Holder greets Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant in Florrissant, Missouri Aug. 20, 2014.

Attorney General Eric Holder greets Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant in Florrissant, Missouri Aug. 20, 2014.

Holder said his brief trip to Missouri the day before affected him like few events have in his time as head of the Justice Department.

"While I went to Ferguson to provide reassurance, in fact, they gave me hope," Holder said. "My commitment to them is that long after this tragic story no longer receives this level of attention, the Justice Department will continue to stand with Ferguson."

Holder said it is clear the shooting "brought to the surface underlying tensions" in the town.

"There is a history to these tensions and that history simmers in more communities than just Ferguson," he said.

Brown's funeral is set for Monday.

WATCH: Related video report by Jim Malone

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