Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson has taken over policing Ferguson in the wake of violence following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. And the change in tone is incredible.
Johnson was given the post on Thursday by Missouri's governor, Gov. Jay Nixon, who pledged to Ferguson residents that the police were going to ratchet down the violence and start to help facilitate the rights of protesters to assemble.
A few nights ago, Ferguson was a militarized zone, with armed police officers in riot gear, shooting tear gas into protests. Tanks rolled down the sleepy streets of the American heartland community. Now a Ferguson native is in charge, and things have turned around in a hurry.
"I'm not afraid to be in this crowd," Johnson told reporters, according to The Washington Post, which has been reporting from the ground in Ferguson all week.
Instead of harassing and throwing protesters and journalists in jail, Johnson held grieving members of the community in his arms, opened up streets to protests and set up a media staging area. He told officers in the crowd to lose the gas masks.
According to reports, one man was angry that his young niece had been tear gassed the night before, and asked Johnson for an explanation.
The towering black man simply reached out a hand, The Washington Post reports, and said, "Tell her Captain Johnson is sorry, and he apologizes."
How's that for a change?
After Johnson joined with protesters, the crowd realized they were dealing with an entirely different police force with a new strategy. This one is being led by a man just like them. He proved with a few actions that he is a man in a police uniform who wants this community — his community — to have the justice it deserves.
"They respect us," one protester shouted through a megaphone at the crowd, referring to the police. "So let's respect them. They've given us the sidewalk, so let's stay out of their street."
Maybe there's hope for healing in Ferguson yet.
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