8/14/2014 11:28:15 PM Laura E. Davis
Times reporter Matt Pearce is at a Ferguson protest this evening and files this dispatch from the street:
It is, of course, not dark yet — the time that demonstrators have seen repeated spasms of street violence over the last four days in Ferguson.
But compared to previous days, a scene of calm and peace unfolded early Thursday evening as demonstrators met the man newly appointed to police them.
His name is Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson, and his presence was solitary and obvious as a march proceeded through some of Ferguson's worst-hit streets: Johnson is one of the only black police officers to be seen on these streets since unrest began, and he was walking along with hundreds of demonstrators protesting police brutality.
Johnson said he's from Ferguson, attended school in Ferguson, still has family and friends and Ferguson, and he was shaking hands and hugging demonstrators after he stopped at a street corner and watched them past.
One young man with a camera came up to him and began filming as he told Johnson that his niece had been teargassed.
"When you see your niece, tell her Captain Johnson said he's sorry and he apologizes," Johnson told him. The man left to rejoin the march — but then doubled back to shake Johnson's hand.
The scene was noticeably mellower than from the night before, when a similar march was met with a line of riot-gear clad police with clubs who were soon backed up by more officers in armored personnel carriers and police armed with assault rifles.
Instead, Thursday, Johnson had only brought a few officers to do traffic control as demonstrators passed.
"None of the officers have gas masks on their belts, I don't have a gas mask on my belt," Johnson told reporters who quickly surrounded him after marchers passed. "Gathering is not an issue for me. We're going to have some barricades... We're going to plan together."
Then, as demonstrators returned down the street, chanting forcefully for justice for Mike Brown, Johnson strode to the front of the march and paused it to ask a man with a bullhorn where they were going.
"We're going to QuikTrip and we're stopping," the man with the bullhorn replied. Johnson patted him on the shoulder — and then turned and started walking at the front of the march, as the demonstrators beside him shouted, "No justice, no peace!"