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Ferguson-area native tasked with keeping peace


FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) - In the days since Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson took charge of a volatile situation that threatened to turn ugly, tragic or both, his calm-yet-commanding presence has captured international attention. But when it comes to keeping the peace in the St. Louis suburb where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen, Johnson knows his neighbors' opinions are what matter most.

"The people of our community need to hear what I'm saying," Johnson, who is black, said at the start of one daily press briefing, urging local residents standing behind an enormous media contingent to come closer to the podium. "They've got questions, and I invited them here."

The 27-year patrol veteran, who oversees nearly 150 troopers patrolling 11 counties in eastern Missouri, grew up down the road from the neighborhood where 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed Aug. 9. He still lives nearby, in the neighboring town of Florissant. He was placed in charge of Ferguson security by Col. Ron Repogle, the Highway Patrol superintendent, after Gov. Jay Nixon revoked county police oversight Thursday.

Johnson's impact was immediate. After five nights of volatile and violent protests marked by looting, arson and the use of tear gas on demonstrators by county and local police, Johnson ordered his officers to abandon the body armor and gas masks and instead ensure the public's right to peaceably assemble.

Things escalated again Friday night, after Ferguson police released the name of the officer who shot Brown along with video they said showed the teen robbing a store shortly before he was killed. But as looters broke into several businesses, some throwing rocks and other objects at officers, police backed off, a move Johnson said was designed to ease tension. No arrests were made and no one was badly hurt.

From the start, Johnson, 50, walked alongside protesters, past the barbecue joint and neighborhood taverns he knew by name, stopping for hugs, handshakes and encouragement. He spoke sincerely and empathetically with young black men who described routine racial profiling based on their clothing, hairstyles and demeanor. Their complaints were familiar: His own son, in his 20s, is often judged because of his tattoos, Johnson said.

Most of all, he listened.

"He made himself accessible, from a place of peace and understanding," said Robin Moore-Chambers, a diversity trainer and counseling professor at Lindenwood University who lives in nearby Dellwood. "He's listening to everybody. He will take you seriously. He's appealing to their humanity. He knows they need to be heard."

Protesters and politicians credit him with almost entirely defusing the nightly violence, and giving the community a sense that it can recover.

On Saturday, Johnson was front and center at a volatile news conference with the governor, taking the lead in explaining how a curfew Nixon ordered would be carried out.

"What we're doing now is not who we are. It's not who we are. Yelling at each other is not going to solve it," Johnson calmly told one audience member. "We're all talking about the same concerns and the same passion. The frustration that's in your home is in my home. It's in my home. And I've given you all the answers that I know, and I'm going to continue to give you that."

Johnson said police would not use armored trucks and tear gas. He also credited community leaders who had voluntarily helped maintain order in the streets and discourage protesters from violence.

Complaints about the police response began almost immediately after Brown's shooting, when authorities decided to use dogs for crowd control - a tactic that for some evoked civil-rights protests from a half-century ago. The county police had taken over at the request of the smaller city, leading both the investigation of Brown's shooting and the subsequent attempts to keep the peace until the state stepped in.

Johnson joined the Highway Patrol in 1987, earning a promotion to corporal in 1995 and to sergeant two years later. He spent three years on the other side of the state after a promotion to lieutenant in 1999 before returning to the St. Louis region as commanding officer in 2002.

Law enforcement runs in the family. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Johnson's father-in-law was a deputy police chief for the city department.

While Johnson's role has been largely welcomed, not everyone is satisfied. Some residents asked if he was simply a figurehead, noting Johnson was not aware Ferguson's police chief would release the surveillance footage of Brown, part of what led to the renewed unrest Friday. Johnson assured them that "we're all in this together."

"We all want justice. We all want answers," he said. "I've got a big dog in this fight. When the media is gone ... Ron Johnson is still going to be here."


Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier

Join the discussion

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Drivy19 August 17 2014 at 5:58 AM

Stop painting Brown as some innocent kid!! Here's his REAL story:

Michael Brown’s ADULT criminal record:
Description: Burglary – 1st Degree
{ Felony B RSMo: 569.160 }
Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 1401000
OCN: AJ006207
Arresting Agency: ST ANN PD

Description: Armed Criminal Action { Felony Unclassified RSMo: 571.015
Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 3101000
OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency: ST ANN

Description: Assault 1st Degree – Serious Physical Injury { Felony A RSMo:
565.050 }
Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 1301100
OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency:

Description: Armed Criminal Action { Felony Unclassified RSMo: 571.015
Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 3101000
OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency: ST ANN

Also a member of the Vice Lords gang, 6’3″ and nearly 300 lbs.

What else would be found if his juvie record was unsealed.

Plus, the video of this punk during his "strong arm robbery" of a cigar store at the time is viral on the net!!!

Vietnam Combat Veteran 7/66-11/71

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52 replies
its.howdy.doody.time August 17 2014 at 7:25 AM

Wild animals & terrorists
like these should not be allowed to destroy civil peoples property.
It's time to put them down....

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9 replies
bwbet9 August 17 2014 at 7:12 AM

Why is this cop kissing the criminals behind.

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14 replies
frankiegallo33 August 17 2014 at 6:49 AM

Johnson appeared to be a patronizing pompous A$$ who was hugging animals and was walking around without the proper riot gear during this riot. Big deal.
I'm not impressed especially after he said that the City Cops handled this wrong and that he would change everything. Well now it's a state of emegency. So stop shaking hands and when someone breaks a law lock them up. If they resist use the proper force ( whatever is needed) to keep control & affect the arrest.
Different color people have to follow the same laws as everybody else.
I can't see a cop hugging an animal that's trowing fire bombs and rocks at you.
Do what you have to and let God sort them out.

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23 replies
coopdabomb August 17 2014 at 6:46 AM

Last night was " keeping peace?"
Time for Colt to be the peacemaker once again.

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5 replies
Richard August 17 2014 at 6:27 AM

Which side is he on, the Governor's and the State's, or the protestors' ?

Can't march with those who protest police actions while you are in fact a policeman in uniform.

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10 replies
muuman August 17 2014 at 6:48 AM

Also, tired of the media taking sides and not reporting in an unbias manner.

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6 replies
mgh406 August 17 2014 at 7:05 AM

The locals are playing him like a cheap fiddle.

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3 replies
TEXVOODOO2 August 17 2014 at 6:28 AM

His marching with rioters doesn't seem to be working since the governor just had to declare a state of emergency. Buildings still being burned, businesses still being looted.

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5 replies
Dick August 17 2014 at 6:58 AM

So much for his efforts...from what I see they are NOT working!!! The animals are out of the cage!!!

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1 reply
merschyvincht Dick August 17 2014 at 12:25 PM

The only way this black cop can help his fellow blacks in the way they want to be "helped" is to give them more stores to loot and more free tvs. Give me a break. This people don't care about anything except what they can get out of playing the race card. SICKENING!

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2 replies
hanna vanhoose merschyvincht August 17 2014 at 3:31 PM

you are right merschyvincht this is sickening , these people want an all black town, an all black police force and total black control. this should be another wake up call to our blinded congress and gov as to what is in the making . we are being infected with a muslim style philosopohy that says, take it, own it, control it and destroy those who don't accept our point of view. funny, I thought gaza and Iraq was in the middle east not here. but its here. when we have to have state police and higher to control riots and animals because the animals wont accept local authority, we are in even more trouble than we are in now. I feel so badly for all the decent American people who want to live peacefully and obey the law because they are going to be victims of this type of subhumans for the rest of our lives. as long as we are forced by law and comments like Obama to have to cater to them, there is very little hope . I am so glad we have jesus Christ to turn to for hope and protection.

Flag +1 rate up
castcutters merschyvincht August 17 2014 at 4:47 PM

There has never been anything, no city; no country, no state...nothing that is run by blacks and is successful or self sustaining.

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