FERGUSON, Mo. — The city of Ferguson, Mo. experienced something it had not witnessed on any night in nearly a week: peace.
Florissant Avenue, which has been ground zero for the protests surrounding the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, was a markedly different scene on Wednesday night compared to the chaos that has engulfed the small St. Louis suburb almost every day over the last 11 days.
Protests went on with only minor incidents throughout the night.
Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said in an interview with The Daily Caller that respected community leaders staying late helped keep the demonstrations calm and focused.
“When the clergy and the elders and the activists are out here, they have a respect with the community,” Johnson told TheDC. “Respect goes a long way to create change and make people listen.”
Johnson said changes in police operations and the way authorities are handling the throng of journalists also played a role. He would not go into detail about the new policies.
Community members said the many police officers present on West Florissant exhibited much friendlier attitudes as well.
While protesters marched and mingled all day and night throughout Wednesday, organized actions began at around 8:00 p.m. A group of activists marched to the police station. They held prayer and sang there before returning to Florissant Ave.
The first real challenge to the peaceful atmosphere came around 9:00 p.m. when a woman showed up with a sign in support of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown on Aug 9. Protesters were furious. They began screaming. Police began escorting the woman, which only drew further ire from the rest of the assembled crowd.
“How come she gets police protection and you been gassing us?” one protester screamed.
Eventually, the woman was arrested. Police did not immediately provide details on any charge
A large thunderclap sounded at nearly the moment the woman was arrested. Rain began to fall, which scattered most everyone, as protesters took cover under the awnings of local businesses. Once the rain subsided, the protests resumed.
One particular change in police tactics was obvious. Instead of lining the streets in a show of force, officers stood idly by for the most part, only occasionally asking people to move along as larger groups started forming.
Officers and protesters exchanged jokes throughout the night and were mostly cordial towards each other.
“You cool?” a protester asked an officer at one point.
“Nah, I’m Todd,” the cop replied dryly.
The protester laughed before giving the officer a high-five.
Johnson said in his press conference early Thursday morning that there were some isolated incidents requiring police intervention. One officer was hit with a bottle.
Overall, police arrested six people on Wednesday, down from 47 on Thursday.
No pepper spray, tear gas, smoke bombs or rubber bullets were used on Wednesday.
“I tell you, we’ve been here several nights and to each night I’ve seen a turning point. Each night I’ve seen small steps,” Johnson said. “Now, sometimes those small steps are hard to see. But I know small steps turn into big steps.”
Johnson also credited the visit of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as a calming influence over the community. Holder met with community leaders and police officers Wednesday.
In a statement, Holder said he understood the strife that residents of Ferguson have been going through.
“I understand that mistrust,” Holder stated. “I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over …. ‘Let me search your car’ … Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”
The attorney general also said he wanted the protests and riots to serve as the “start of a discussion” in America. When people look at the legacy of the Obama administration, he said, they will remember it for its work on civil rights.