Faced with the tense situation that had developed in suburban St. Louis. President Obama performed decisively, even historically, on Thursday. His actions were so subtle that few people acknowledged or credited his role. The chain of events:
- He scheduled a 12:15 p.m. statement about Iraq and the St. Louis story, and we then learned he was delayed.
- In the interim, historical perspective was evident. Congressman John Lewis, the conscience of the Civil Rights era, appeared on MSNBC where he told Andrea Mitchell that he heard echoes of the 1960s.
- President Obama finally came on the air from Martha’s Vineyard, announced and reaffirmed no boots on the ground needed in Iraq and then turned to Ferguson, Missouri, saying he had just spoken with Jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri.
I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward. He is going to be traveling to Ferguson. He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done….
Despite calls for federalizing the National Guard, no boots were needed on the ground here either.
Within hours, the governor, described as taciturn and avoiding the situation (he had been en route to the Missouri State Fair), diverted to St. Louis and appointed an African-American State Police Captain, Ronald Johnson, to take over policing.
Everything changed. Reporters, including Wesley Lowery, the Washington Post writer who had been arrested by police a day earlier, tweeted they had seen an immediate turnaround. This from the Washington Post:
As a result, the heavy riot armor, the SWAT trucks with sniper posts and the gas masks were gone from the streets of Ferguson Thursday night, and Johnson marched with the crowd, eliciting cheers from the protesters. Johnson vowed to not blockade the streets, to set up a media staging center, and to ensure that residents’ rights to assemble and protest were not infringed upon.
“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson declared to reporters.
Captain Johnson, who is African-American and grew up in the area, said: “We’re just starting today anew. We’re starting a new partnership today. We’re going to move forward today, to put yesterday and the day before behind us.”
A New York Times Editorial acknowledged the change, but only said “higher authorities” had wisely prevailed.
Higher authorities wisely stepped into the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday after a night that startled the nation with images of police overkill: flash grenades, rubber bullets and huge clouds of tear gas fired at demonstrators protesting the police shooting Saturday of an unarmed black teenager.
Gov. Jay Nixon — after keeping a low profile for too long — made an urgent tour of the town and replaced local police officers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He gave the Highway Patrol an order that should have been given over the weekend: Let protesters who are angry about the shooting protest peacefully, without aggressive demands to disperse, as is their constitutional right.
The change in temperature? Organized quietly, plain, simple and with surgical precision, by the President of the United States. Did anyone happen to notice?