Missouri’s governor ordered the withdrawal of National Guard troops from the riot-weary town of Ferguson on Thursday as tensions eased after nearly two weeks of racially charged protests over the fatal shooting of a black teenager.
A relaxed, orderly mood prevailed among demonstrators for a second straight evening on Thursday, the calmest night in the St. Louis suburb since unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by a white police officer on Aug. 9 under disputed circumstances.
Even as scores of boisterous but peaceful protesters returned to the streets, Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., urged demonstrators during a CNN interview “to go back to your regular life.”
He expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support but criticized thugs and outside agitators who police have blamed for much of the lawlessness surrounding earlier protests.
“This looting, all this other stuff … it’s not helping our boy. It’s doing nothing but causing more pain, plus it’s shaming his name,” Brown’s father said. “Go back home to your family … Hug your kids. Hold onto them tight. Keep them close.”
Ferguson erupted in anger after the teenager’s slaying, with nightly rallies frequently punctuated by looting, vandalism and clashes between protesters and heavily armed riot police, often ending in volleys of tear gas and dozens of arrests.
The turmoil has cast the community of 21,000 people into the international spotlight as an emblem of often-troubled U.S. race relations.
Although Ferguson is predominantly African American, its political leadership, police department and public school administration are dominated by whites. Civil rights activists say Brown’s death was the culmination of years of police unfairly targeting blacks.
With civic leaders and clergy urging protesters in recent days to maintain order and leave the streets after dark, crowds have grown thinner in number and generally more subdued.
“I think we’ve turned a corner,” said State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, a black officer placed in command last week of a local police force widely criticized for heavy-handed tactics that seemed to be stoking civil unrest.
On Thursday night, Johnson and many of his officers mingled casually among the protesters. The police presence was generally more low key than it had been since the night Brown was shot.
National Guard troops, who were deployed to Ferguson to assist police at the height of disturbances but have kept a relatively low profile during demonstrations, were ordered by Governor Jay Nixon to begin pulling out of the community.
“We continue to see improvement,” Nixon said in a statement.