The aftermath of the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., provides a stark lesson in how authorities both should and should not comport themselves in response to such a tragedy.
After police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson disclosed few details of the shooting and refused to identify the officer involved in the slaying. As prayer vigils for the victim and peaceful protests took place over the following days, public anger continued to rise. Soon, local residents began rioting, looting and acting aggressively toward members of the St. Louis County police force, who were called in to handle the security in the town.
What followed angered and outraged much of the country.
Police officers in riot gear and armored tanks and wearing military-style camouflage and gas masks indiscriminately fired tear gas and smoke bombs and trained their rifles on unarmed civilians. Their complete overreaction to the situation more resembled an army unit fighting rebel soldiers than a police force trying to restore order.
Fortunately – and astutely – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon sent in the Missouri State Highway Patrol to take control of the situation, placing Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson – a Ferguson native – in charge.
Johnson quickly demonstrated to his counterparts in the local law enforcement agencies how to deal with the situation with compassion, courtesy and professionalism. He met with residents one-on-one and in small groups, often seen hugging or shaking hands with many of them, and not only provided police escorts for the protest marches, but participated in them.
With a cool head and empathetic attitude, Johnson diffused the tense, violent situation. His actions should not only be hailed, but also held up as a shining example of what it truly means to “protect and serve.”