Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) promised changes in Ferguson, where days of anger over Michael Brown’s death have been met by a heavily-armed, forceful police presence.
State officials were planning on “making some shifts” on Thursday, Nixon said during an appearance at a church in Florissant.
“I think you all will see a different tone,” he said.
A police officer who has not yet been publicly identified shot and killed Brown, 18, on Saturday afternoon, setting off a series of protests and vigils. On Sunday night, there was looting in Ferguson, and on the nights that have followed, police have responded by unleashing tear gas, firing rubber bullets and blocking off streets.
Nixon assured the crowd gathered in the church that protests should be allowed to continue, so long as the protesters do not break the law.
“It doesn’t matter to me how respectful it is,” Nixon said. “It just has to be safe.”
Nixon’s appearance on Thursday came after five days of tension that has spilled over into nights of fraught confrontations between residents and the police.
He had been set to appear at the Missouri State Fair on Thursday, but he canceled that appearance late Wednesday night as footage of the chaos on Ferguson’s streets spread wildly over social media. In a statement early Thursday morning, Nixon called the situation “deeply troubling” and said he would visit the North St. Louis area, where Ferguson is located, on Thursday.
He also referred to issues that have been facing journalists covering the protests. On Wednesday night, two reporters — including Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post — were arrested by police officers before being freed without explanation. A day earlier, the Federal Aviation Administration had banned low-flying aircraft at the request of the county police, which meant news helicopters could not cover over Ferguson.
“If the news media wants to cover things and take pictures of stuff, they ought to do it,” Nixon said. “We live in a free country.”
Nixon said that he was late in appearing at the church because he had been on the phone with President Obama, who spoke shortly after Nixon did. Obama sent “wishes of peace and justice to this community,” Nixon said, while also promising to assist the area in any way that was necessary.