Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon apparently had little faith that the Missouri National Guard could show restraint during the violent protests that unfolded in Ferguson last week.
Nixon had activated 2,200 guardsmen as officials feared violent protests in the event of a St. Louis County grand jury’s decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown.
But only 700 were deployed, and those went to the city of St. Louis and to nearby Clayton, leaving many questioning the move in the wake of the destruction of much of Ferguson, where a dozen businesses were burned to the ground.
“The plan was that the law enforcement officers who have been trained would be out on the front lines,” Nixon told KTVI reporter Chris Hayes.
“You didn’t want to have a Kent State situation,” Nixon continued, referencing a May 4, 1970 incident in which Ohio National Guardsmen killed four university students and wounded nine others during Vietnam War protests.
“You certainly didn’t want to have a situation where Guardsmen who had only been there a few hours, who had not been used to the very kinetic atmosphere of people throwing things, screaming things at the very front tip of that spear,” said Nixon.
“That was the plan. I think it has prevented loss of life.”
Nixon’s comparison is a strange one.
There is no evidence that the Kent State protesters acted violently towards the Ohio National Guard, whereas Ferguson protesters showed a strong penchant for violence. At least two police cars were set on fire during the night of mayhem. Besides the arson and looting, dozens of gunshots could be heard on live television during the riot.
Until he spoke to KTVI, Nixon had avoided answering the question of why only 700 out of 2,200 Missouri National Guardsmen were deployed during the mayhem. Ferguson’s mayor James Knowles said after the night of rioting that his calls to Nixon seeking help were not answered.
“So then why did Rapid Response sit and watch businesses burn?” KTVI’s Hayes asked Nixon.
“Well as I said before the plan that night was to make sure we had officers out there,” he said.
“But they weren’t out there,” Hayes replied.
Nixon responded, “There were 700, yes they were.”
“But there were 1500 sitting and waiting,” said Hayes, adding that there were “700 out on the streets and 1500 waiting for a call.”
“There were 700 assigned that night, others came later as the night went on.”