The Washington Post

On social media and on the ground, Claire McCaskill led the early response to Ferguson unrest

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s first response came the morning of Aug. 11, two days after officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The Democratic senator’s words were simple, short and marked with characteristic straight-forwardness.

“As a mother, I grieve for this child and his family. I pray that the wonderful, hardworking, and God-loving people of Ferguson will find peace and patience as we wait for the results of what will be numerous and thorough investigations of what happened. I, like so many other Missourians, will not be satisfied until we have a complete and transparent understanding of all the facts and circumstances that led to this young man’s death.”

From there, McCaskill and her team went to work. As the circumstances of Brown’s death became a topic of national discussion, McCaskill stayed in Washington to call for a larger response to the shooting and its aftermath.

Just three days later, McCaskill was meeting with protesters and other locals in Ferguson.

McCaskill was one of the first area politicians to join in the discussion of police militarization. She didn’t hesitate in vocalizing her opposition to the rubber bullets, tear gas and other tactics observed on the ground in Ferguson.

“We need to de-militarize this situation,” she said in a statement Aug. 14. “This kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution. I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right. Today is going to be a new start, we can and need to do better.”

That new start didn’t take long — or it did, depending on who you ask. The same day McCaskill released her statement, she talked on the phone with Attorney General Eric Holder, briefing him on her impressions of the atmosphere in Ferguson.

Later that day, Nixon announced Missouri Highway Patrol would take over security in Ferguson. But the situation has been slow to deescalate.

McCaskill has previously been known for her work to address campus sexual assault. Earlier this year, her office released a comprehensive report on the circumstances and numbers surrounding the issue, and her efforts to raise awareness and combat the problem was roundly lauded. That same straight-forwardness has won her similar acclaim for her actions in Ferguson.

Even after the birth of two grandchildren — two! — the following weekend, McCaskill hasn’t cut her visit to the protest short. She’s been meeting with protesters and visiting Ferguson landmarks, even attending a local Sunday church service with her family.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” McCaskill spoke about her experiences in the town and again reiterated her commitment to the area’s small business owners.

“I worry about the health and vibrancy of this community too, as much as I worry about the safety and fairness, and the way people are treated,” she said. “I hate to see all these great small businesses in Ferguson suffering so terribly.”

She’s planned a social media campaign, #ShopFerguson, that highlights the intersection between the city unrest and the city business, how one may have affected the other, and vice versa. And behind all this is her team’s fervent commitment to documenting the Senator’s movements on social media, asking more questions about how Ferguson’s residents and small businesses have been affected by the unrest.

The Claire McCaskill Tumblr, dormant since last fall (when she hilariously addressed her social media haters), was reinvigorated to announce the #ShopFerguson campaign.

In comparison to fellow Missourian politicians — most notably Nixon and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (R) — McCaskill has been incredibly active in negotiating the situation and proposing her ideas on what would make Ferguson better.

By the time Blunt was scheduled to arrived in Ferguson on Wednesday, McCaskill had been in town for almost a week. The photo of McCaskill hugging an unnamed protester will have already made its rounds on social media as a singular snapshot of a moment in Ferguson history.

As one Facebook commenter posted, “Yes, she gets it.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly dated Gov. Jay Nixon’s response to the events in Ferguson. We have since removed the error.

Julia Carpenter is a digital audience producer at The Washington Post.

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