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Statement from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) and from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Live from La Farine CCCIX: August 14, 2014

NewImageMissouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D): "Jefferson City, MO-- The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling...

...and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans. While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.

I have been closely monitoring the situation and will continue to be in communication with local leaders, and I will be in north St. Louis County tomorrow. As Governor, I am committed to ensuring the pain of last weekend’s tragedy does not continue to be compounded by this ongoing crisis. Once again, I ask that members of the community demonstrate patience and calm while the investigation continues, and I urge law enforcement agencies to keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press during this difficult time.

Jay Nixon's focus seems off: a jaywalking stop is not supposed to turn into a person without any criminal record dead at the hands of the police with multiple gunshot wounds. The problem, it seems to me, is that the Ferguson police did not properly protect the public in the first place, and are now trying to evade accountability.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Editorial: Governor must let Ferguson be where better begins: "As soon as the unrest in Ferguson is over...

...and let it be soon — there must be a thorough, independent and timely investigation into how and why it happened and the police response to it. This inquiry would go beyond the parallel criminal investigations and get into the root causes of this madness.

Yes, the immediate cause — the “tipping point” they call it in the literature of civil unrest — was the fatal shooting Saturday of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a still-unidentified Ferguson police officer. (By the way, the failure to identify the officer violates every principle of transparency recommended by law enforcement experts. Society grants police officers the right to use deadly force. That right carries special obligations, one of which is strict public accountability. The longer the officer stays anonymous, the more public confidence is undermined.)

When the independent investigation deconstructs the Ferguson incident, as it must, it should explore the history and conditions that may have helped precipitate Saturday’s shooting and the subsequent public protests. That includes racial segregation. That includes the training and qualifications of Ferguson police officers. It includes command-and-control decisions by the Ferguson and St. Louis County police forces and the Missouri Highway Patrol.

One big problem with convening such an investigative panel is that it’s not clear who has jurisdiction. The same problem plagues the entire response in Ferguson: Who has command authority? Who is accountable for the decisions that are being made? The fragmentation may be deliberate; it certainly mirrors the fragmentation that is the bane of the entire region. But the first rule of restoring public confidence is to earn it. Someone must step forward and take responsibility — both for the law enforcement effort that’s currently underway and then for the investigation that must follow.

It will have to be Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a man whose every instinct is to dodge bad news whenever possible. Sorry, governor. But you asked for the job. By law, cities and counties are political subdivisions of the state. The state patrol already appears to be taking a lead role in crowd control efforts, though no one is saying so officially.

It can’t be the city of Ferguson. It is one of 90 municipalities in St. Louis County. It has 21,000 residents, two-thirds of whom are black, and a police force of 53 commissioned officers, 90 percent of whom are white. Nor can it be St. Louis County. The county has more than 800 police officers but no formal jurisdiction over law enforcement in Ferguson. At Ferguson’s request, the county police force is helping out through mutual aid agreements, as are the state patrol and other municipal police forces.

Mr. Nixon is the only public official with the authority to create an independent investigative commission. Public confidence demands that he announce plans to do so immediately. Its membership should be diverse and of unquestioned integrity. Its members should come from law enforcement, civil rights, academia and civic leadership. It’s time to step up.

The police agencies may know who’s in charge, but the public deserves to know, too. At whose order were police dogs brought in? Who authorized the use of tear gas and non-lethal baton rounds? What central command authority is making sure that officers from multiple jurisdictions are singing from the same hymnal? Is anyone up to speed on the latest thinking in law enforcement about dealing with mass protests? There is a lot of literature on that subject, dating back to the “police riot” at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and forward to the 2011 London riots and “Occupy Wall Street” protests.

A “best practices” study published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin two years ago says it’s generally accepted that “crowd violence escalates if people think police offers treat them unfairly.” Furthermore, the study says, when a crowd perceives that “officers act with justice and legitimacy,” disorder becomes less likely. Cops are human beings, and human beings get scared. Their first impulse is to gear-up as if they were patrolling outside Baghdad’s Assassin’s Gate. As in foreign policy, the academic types may say that dialogue and soft power are better, but that defies the average’s cop’s attitudes. What the public generally regards as “riot gear” — helmets, shields, Kevlar vests — is known in police circles as “hard gear.” Here’s what the FBI bulletin says about that:

Officers must avoid donning their hard gear as a first step. They should remember the lessons learned from the 1960s civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests. Police should not rely solely on their equipment and tools.

What we’ve seen in Ferguson is skirmish lines of officers in hard gear and videos of tear gas canisters lobbed onto roofs. Individual officers generally have shown great restraint. But those images are doing incalculable harm, and not just to community relations in Ferguson. The nation and the world have seen horrible images from St. Louis that suggest that race relations here have a long way to go. They’re not wrong.

There are people of good will on all sides who want better. Ferguson should be the place where better begins. Mr. Nixon must get it started.

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