Ferguson-area native tasked with keeping peace

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Ron Johnson from Ferguson
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Ferguson-area native tasked with keeping peace
A girl holds a sign as she protests the shooting of Michael Brown August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Crowds continue to gather to march along Florissant Road after Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson August 9th. AFP PHOTO/Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: After all other protesters were gone, a group of young men gather to strategize about how to better themselves and their communities and to mold themselves into civil rights leaders in a community roiled by the police shooting of an unarmed African American teen on Wednesday, August 21, 2014, in Ferguson, MO. The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9 has sparked nightly clashes between protesters and law enforcement officers that highlight the racial mistrust of the criminal justice system. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO. - AUGUST 21: Emily Holloway joins protestors at Lincoln Park in downtown Denver, CO August 21, 2014. Activists from Anonymous had called for the 'Day of Rage' protest in cities across the country in support of demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri. Holloway said, 'I'm just here for the people. I love human beings more than anything in the world. and I can't stand to see them treated unjustly.' (Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Activists from Anonymous raise their hands as theyt participate in a Day Of Rage protest in front of the White House, August 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. The group held protests in other cities as well in support of demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: Police stand guard along Florissant Avenue to prevent a repeat of the unrest that followed the recent death of Michael Brown on August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: Police stand guard along Florissant Avenue to prevent a repeat of the unrest that followed the recent death of Michael Brown on August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: Police stand guard along Florissant Avenue to prevent a repeat of the unrest that followed the recent death of Michael Brown on August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol speaks to media during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014. Police fired tear gas in another night of unrest in a Missouri town where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, just hours after President Barack Obama called for calm. AFP PHOTO / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 18: Dr, Michael Baden points to an autopsy diagram showing where the gun shots hit Michael Brown as family attorney's Benjamin Crump (L) and Daryl Parks look on during a press conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 18: Dr, Michael Baden points to his head where one of the gun shots hit Michael Brown as family attorney's Benjamin Crump (L) and Daryl Parks look on during a press conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 18: The family attorney for Michael Brown, Benjamin Crump, raises his fingers to indicate that 6 gun shots were the minimum number of times the 18 year old teenager was hit during a press conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A woman has her face doused with milk after suffering the effects of tear gas used by police at a protest of the death of Michael Brown August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Tensions still run high in the Ferguson community after 18 -year-old Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer August 9 on Canfield Drive. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17 : Demonstrators protesting Michael Brown's murder high-five each other August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death.. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17 : Demonstrators protesting Michael Brown's murder are tear gassed by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man runs through the haze as tears gas fills the street during a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance on demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance on demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer try to stand their ground despite being overcome by tear gas on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man is overcome by tear gas which police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A woman is helped from the street after becoming overcome by tear gas during a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Tear gas reigns down on a woman kneeling in the street with her hands in the air after a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Tear gas fills the street as a demonstrator walks through the haze during protests over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man covers his face to lessen the affect of tear gas that police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A person runs through a clowd of tear gas that police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator holds up his hands in a cloud of tear gas as police fire it at a group of people protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance while sending a volley of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man gets help after being overcome by tear gas that police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police stand in a cloud of tear gas after the protest was attacked by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at police after they fired the gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator picks up a tear gas canister to throw back at police after they fired the gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer stands in a cloud of tear gas after the protest was attacked by police on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrators protesting the death of Michael Brown runs amid tear gas used by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Tensions still run high in the Ferguson community after 18 -year-old Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer August 9 on Canfield Drive. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police run through a cloud of tear gas after the protest was attacked by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer throws a tear gas grenade back toward police after the protest was attacked by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER

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."

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

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