The message from Missouri police Capt. Ron Johnson: “We’re in this together.” Johnson, a 27-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, has been a visible presence over the last few days in Ferguson, a community rocked by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown, by a white policeman, who was identified yesterday as Darren Wilson.
The Huffington Post also spoke with Wilson after one of their own reporters was arrested in Ferguson on Wednesday. HuffPost says that cops in Ferguson and even the state’s Highway Patrol have removed their identifying name tags from their uniforms. Johnson was asked why.
“What happened is, some people are taking their names and going on the Internet and getting their identities and social security numbers, and so that's been occurring,” Johnson said. “I can't set rules for another police department,” adding that the Missouri State Highway Patrol officers have also been instructed to remove their name tags “for their safety and security, but if you ask them their name they've been told to tell you.”
Johnson, who was anointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday as the chief of security operations in the riot-driven Ferguson, said a “new approach” was needed to deal with the continued unrest and looting. Nixon said he was outraged over the “heavy-handed tactics” of police, and turned matters over to Ferguson and his troopers.
“We are going to have a different approach and have the approach that we’re in this together,” Johnson, a Ferguson native, commented on Thursday. “I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and our officers will respect both of those… In our anger we have to make sure we don’t burn down our own house and go down there and vandalize our own buildings.”
The 51-year-old Johnson marched with protestors yesterday; he was leading the pack in his police blue.
“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” declared Johnson. “I grew up here, and this is currently my community and home.”
One of the most noticeable changes under Johnson’s oversight was the elimination of provocation-inducing police heavy equipment – body armor and shields, tear gas grenades and armored SWAT trucks were put away.
However, Ferguson is still seething, and after a brief calm, a fresh round of protests and looting broke out Friday night at the convenience store where Michael Brown was suspected of stealing cigars.
“There were 300 protesters last night, but the protesters went home and the looters came out,” Johnson said.
Johnson, a married father of two, previously said that he is no stranger to racist targeting. “I’ve got a son that deals with the same thing,” he said. “Last night you saw me out there communicating and respecting; that is what law enforcement is supposed to do. You’re going to see a bunch of smiles, a bunch of hugs, that’s what you’re going to see from me.”
However, NBC News reported on the most recent wave of violent protests, brought on by the release of Darren Wilson’s name – a white policeman as was expected – and the fact that Wilson did not even know that the store had been robbed when he confronted Brown.
For days, police had refused to release the name of the officer who shot Brown but on Friday he was identified as Darren Wilson, a four-year veteran of the force in Ferguson, Missouri.
Anger also mounted after police also revealed that Brown was suspected of stealing a box of cigars from a convenience store and assaulting a clerk minutes before he was shot to death.
But Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said later in the day Friday that Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect when he stopped Brown and a friend. Asked why they were stopped, the chief said: "Because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic."
Anthony Gray, who is representing the Brown family, released a statement that said: “There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.”