St. Louis County police will be removed from Ferguson after clashes with demonstrators reached their boiling point Wednesday night, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday. Officials said they worry that local police have complicated peace-keeping efforts after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a Ferguson cop Saturday sparked outrage and protests. The move would let state or federal authorities take over security of the suburban community.
“The governor just called me, and he’s on his way to St. Louis now to announce he’s taking away St. Louis County police out of the situation,” U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., told Bloomberg on Thursday. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., confirmed the news, saying it was her understanding “that the county police will be taken off the investigation.”
“The police response has become part of the problem as opposed to being part of the solution,” McCaskill said. “We all got to take a deep breath and realize that the vast majority of people protesting have a constitutional right. ... They are my bosses, and I want to make sure they have an environment of safety and respect."
Witnesses and journalists who were in Ferguson on Wednesday have accused St. Louis County police of using excessive force to disperse crowds after heavily armed riot police fired several rounds of tear gas into groups of protesters and reporters and aimed their firearms at demonstrators who were on their knees.
President Barack Obama addressed the violence in Ferguson on Thursday, saying the actions of both local police, as well as certain protesters who looted and vandalized, were out of line. "There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism and looting," Obama said. "There's also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights."
St. Louis County police led the investigation into the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown over the weekend. They were also tasked with securing the streets of Ferguson after in the aftermath of the shooting. Nixon is expected to ask the FBI, who has already been part of the investigation, to step in, according to the New York Post.