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Nixon Faces New Barrage Of Complaints After Monday Night Of Fire; Officials Pledge Stronger Response

Police cars burning in Ferguson Monday after the grand jury announcement.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Police cars burning in Ferguson Monday after the grand jury announcement.

(Updated 11:30 p.m. Nov. 25)

After a night of rioting and flaming businesses Monday, elected officials and business leaders were reassessing what happened and how to prevent more of it.

One of two county police cars that were burned Monday night in Ferguson
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Police cars burning in Ferguson Monday after the grand jury announcement.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon found himself under fire, as critics blasted the low-profile use of National Guardsmen late Monday.

Nixon said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that he had stationed 700 National Guard troops late Monday around the region in support roles. Their jobs included guarding police stations, fire houses and key facilities such as electrical power stations. 

Authorities said that Guard force will be tripled to 2,200 by Tuesday night.

“I am deeply saddened for the people of Ferguson who woke up this morning to see parts of their community in ruins," the governor said. “I just came from West Florissant, and it’s a heart-breaking sight. Seniors afraid to leave the house. School canceled. Kids scared to go outside and play."

“What they’ve gone through is unacceptable. No one should have to live like this. No one deserves this. We must do better and we will," he added.

The governor’s office had announced shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday that more Guard troops would be on the streets Tuesday night. Midday Tuesday, Nixon issued a statement saying that he had spent the morning meeting with local law enforcement officials.

A National Guardsman stands watch in Ferguson.
Credit Mary Delach Leonard, St. Louis Public Radio
A National Guardsman stands watch in Ferguson.

Nixon indicated that the aim was not to use the Guard troops to confront those committing violence, but to allow local police to do their jobs.

“With these additional citizen soldiers, law enforcement officers will be better able to focus on protecting lives and property in the community,” Nixon said.

Nixon was joined at the press conference by a number of law enforcement officials, including Missouri National Guard Gen. Gregory Mason. He said the guard "will deploy a trained and ready professional force."

"Our soldiers were equipped to do the job in August," Mason said. "We returned to Ferguson and this region and we will continue to do a good job to protect the citizens and life and property."

But Missouri Highway Patrol Col. Ron Replogle didn't mince words about how Monday night transpired. 

"Last night was a disaster," Replogle said. "And we're prepared to team up with the National Guard, with the other local law enforcement to address tonight. As the governor said, we cannot have a repeat of what happened last night."

'Deeply concerning'

A number of elected officials contended Nixon should have been more proactive in stationing guardsmen around Ferguson to prevent businesses from being burned and looted.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III was one of the officials critical of how Nixon used the National Guard last night.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III was one of the officials critical of how Nixon used the National Guard last night.

Among those criticizing the governor was Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III.He said "the National Guard was not deployed in enough time to save all of our businesses."

"The decision to delay the deployment of the National Guard is deeply concerning," Knowles said. "We are asking that the governor make available and deploy all necessary resources to prevent the further destruction of property and the preservation of life in the city of Ferguson."

Lt Gov. Peter Kinder and House Speaker Tim Jones, both Republicans, accused the governor of ignoring late Monday-night pleas from Ferguson city officials like Knowles when the unrest got out of control.

In an interview, Kinder said Knowles was "desperate" when he called him "since the governor won’t talk to me and will not answer my plea that he send in National Guard troops to protect my city."

"He said ‘I’m watching my city burn from back porch,'" Kinder said.Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder speaks with St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum about Gov. Jay Nixon's decisionmaking after last night's grand jury decision.

Jones, in particular, said the violence was evidence of Nixon’s “incredible failure’’ to take actions needed to keep the peace. Kinder echoed that sentiment.

"At the first sign of an overturned police car or a smashed police car window, the National Guard should have been in there protecting lives and property of law-abiding citizens and giving no quarter to criminals and terrorists who would riot and destroy property and threaten lives," Kinder said.

Gov. Jay Nixon met the press at the University of Missouri-St. Louis after a violent night in Ferguson.
Credit Bill Greenblatt, UPI
Gov. Jay Nixon met the press at the University of Missouri-St. Louis after a violent night in Ferguson.

When asked if he had dispatched National Guard troops to West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson before businesses there were ransacked and burned, Nixon replied like this:

"The National Guard was part of Unified Command," Nixon said. "They were providing services all throughout the area so that officials would be freed up to be part of that command. As I said before, we had 700 guardsmen in the region doing a lot of static work out there ... We certainly had Guard at the command post. And, as I said, later in the night we had Guard at the Ferguson Police Department."

"But we will have more out there tonight and we will continue to have resources as necessary," Nixon added.

State Sen.JamilahNasheed, D-St. Louis, reaffirmed in a statement Tuesday that she was upset with the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9.Gov. Jay Nixon responds to questions on Tuesday about the availability of Missouri National Guard in Ferguson.

But Nasheed said she also was saddened by the violence that erupted after the decision was announced. “It is OK to be angry and hurt by, or even protest because of, what has happened,” she said. “However, it is not OK to destroy our communities or hold our neighbors hostage in their homes.”

A little more than a week ago, Nixon was criticized for declaring a state of emergency before the grand jury had made a decision. Some contended that Nixon was inflaming tensions by making the declaration when Ferguson and St. Louis were fairly calm. But a number of elected officials -- including St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive-elect Steve Stenger and Kinder -- supported the decision.

Koster, Kander help out

Meanwhile, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander announced that his office will delay deadlines until November 2015 for fees and other business-related matters for Ferguson businesses. He said his staff also will help with providing the paperwork for businesses harmed by the unrest and dealing with insurance matters. 

St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman also issued a release recommending that county residents and businesses use his agency's satellite offices, and the web, to pay their property taxes in order to avoid trips to Clayton.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster made an unannounced visit to Ferguson Tuesday morning.  Koster, a Democrat running for governor in 2016, said he wanted to get a first-hand look at the damage and to meet privately with those affected.

“It is absolutely critical to protect these establishments from looting and vandalism,” said Koster. “These small businesses are the lifeblood of Ferguson, and they should not have to bear the cost of civil unrest. The protection and restoration of these businesses is essential for Ferguson’s recovery.”

Justice Department Investigations Continue

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder briefed President Barack Obama on events in Ferguson and later met with Justice Department officials to discuss the department’s two investigations and its ongoing involvement with area law enforcement.

In comments to reporters at the Justice Department, Holder said he shared the perspectives of people in law enforcement with the president and that the two talked about what Holder described as “programmatic initiatives we want to announce soon.” 

Holder did not provide details of what those initiatives might be, but he spent a considerable amount of time talking about department efforts to bridge the divide between local law enforcement and the communities they serve; a topic he first raised with law enforcement officials nearly a year before Michael Brown’s death. 

“This is a difficult time for people in Ferguson.  It’s a difficult time for people in our country. I think this is an opportunity for us to find, those things that bind us as a nation, to be honest with one another about those things that continue to divide us and to come up with ways that we make this union even more perfect,” Holder said.

The Justice Department’s investigations into the shooting and the civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police department, says Holder, will continue to “be through, they will continue to be independent and they remain on-going.” He added, that the investigations “will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so that we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding, and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community leaders.”  

Holder also discussed the violence following Monday night’s announcement that the Grand Jury had not indicted police officer Darren Wilson. “I was disappointed that some members of the community resorted to violence rather than respecting what I thought were the really heartfelt words of Michael Brown Sr. and the wish that he expressed about how he wanted his son’s memory to be honored with nonviolence.”

Holder says acts of violence threaten to drown out “those who have legitimate voices, legitimate demonstrations. Acts of violence cannot and will not be condoned.”

He also said it was “heartening” to hear about people who were trying to intervene to stop the violence and looting. “Those people who took it upon themselves to try to stop those kinds of things are in fact heroes in my mind,” said Holder.

“I would remind demonstrators of our history. The way in which we’ve made progress in this country is when we have seen peaceful, non-violent demonstrations – that has led to the change that has been the most long-lasting and the most pervasive,” Holder said.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon.
Howard covers news from Washington, D.C., of importance to the St. Louis region. His beat includes following the legislative activities of area lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as developments from The White House, Supreme Court and numerous federal agencies and departments. Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he was a longtime newscaster and producer at NPR in Washington. Howard also has deep roots in the Midwest. Earlier in his career, he was statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Public Radio, where he directed news coverage of state government and politics for a 13-station network.