By Staff Reporter
A semblance of calm had returned to Ferguson, Missouri late on Thursday after four nights of violent protests, while vigils were held across the US in honour of the black teenager killed by local police at the weekend.
The apparent easing of tensions followed a decision by Jay Nixon, the Missouri state governor, to call in the state Highway Patrol to take over security, stripping the local police involved in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown of their role.
The de-escalation came as thousands of people across the US held candlelit vigils to mark the death of teenager who witnesses said was shot by a white police officer after he and a friend ignored an order to move out of the middle of the street. Mr Brown, who was unarmed, was said to have held up his hands and shouted: “Don’t shoot” before the officer opened fire.
The authorities have said the shots were fired during a scuffle with the teenage high school graduate.
The change in policing tactics had an immediate effect with state troopers seen walking side-by-side with thousands of protesters in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, in stark contrast to the violent clashes with heavily armed officers on previous nights.
Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time about the shooting and appealed for calm. He said there was “no excuse” for violence either against the police or by officers against peaceful demonstrators.
Ferguson is a town with a population of 21,000 that is nearly 70 per cent black but patrolled by the St Louis County Police department that is predominantly white.
After ordering the local police off the streets, Mr Nixon appointed Highway Patrol captain Ron Johnson to head up the operation, a black officer who grew up near Ferguson.
Capt Johnson was part of the march on Thursday night and vowed to talk to demonstrators throughout the night. “We’re going to have some conversations with them and get an understanding of what is going on,” he said.
President Obama said he had asked investigators from the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate.