FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin withdrawing from Ferguson, where nightly scenes of unrest have erupted since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old nearly two weeks ago.
Since the guard’s arrival Monday, flare-ups in the small section of town that had been the center of unrest have begun to subside. The quietest night was overnight Wednesday into Thursday, when police arrested only a handful of people in the protest zone.
“The last two nights have been really good. I feel we’re making progress,” Nixon told KMOX-AM, noting that a state of emergency remained in effect in Ferguson.
About 100 people gathered Thursday evening, walking in laps near the spot where Michael Brown was shot. Some were in organized groups, such as clergy members. More signs reflected calls by protesters to remove the prosecutor from the case.
Demonstrations began after the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown, and authorities have arrested at least 163 people in the protest area. Data provided Thursday by St. Louis County showed that while the majority of those arrested are Missourians, just seven live in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. The vast majority, 128 people, were cited for failure to disperse. Twenty-one face burglary-related charges.
St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch reiterated Thursday that he has no intentions of removing himself from the case, and he urged Nixon to once and for all decide if he will act on calls for McCulloch’s ouster.
Some question McCulloch’s ability to be unbiased since his father, mother and other relatives worked for St. Louis police. His father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.
Nixon said this week he is not asking McCulloch to recuse himself. But a McCulloch aide, Ed Magee, said the governor ‘didn’t take an actual position one way or the other.”
McCulloch called for a more definitive decision and said in a statement that Nixon must “end this distraction” or risk delay in resolution of the investigation.
On Thursday, Nixon told KMOX he had no plans to take the case from McCulloch, noting that “we’re all trying to do our jobs.”
Federal authorities have launched an independent investigation into Brown’s death, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press that all of the physical evidence from the case was being flown Thursday from St. Louis to the FBI forensics lab in Quantico, Virginia. The evidence includes shell casings and trajectories, blood patterns and clothing, the Missouri Democrat said.
“The only thing you have to test the credibility of eyewitnesses to a shooting like this is in fact the physical evidence,” McCaskill said. “I’m hopeful the forensic evidence will be clear and will shed a lot more light on what the facts were.”
McCaskill also announced that next month she will lead a Senate hearing to look into the militarization of local police departments after criticism of the earlier law enforcement response to the protests in Ferguson.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of securing Ferguson, said just six people were arrested at protests Wednesday night, compared to 47 the previous night, providing hope among law enforcement leaders that tensions may be beginning to ease.
A grand jury began considering evidence on Wednesday to determine whether the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, should be charged. Magee said there was no timeline for the process, but it could take weeks.
Another fatal police-involved shooting happened this week in St. Louis, about 5 miles from where Brown was killed. St. Louis police released video showing officers killing a knife-wielding man. The video shows the man saying, “Kill me now” as he moved toward two officers. The officers fired six shots each, killing 25-year-old Kajieme Powell.
The St. Louis shooting briefly spurred a gathering of about 150 people who chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” a slogan that has become common among protesters in Ferguson.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said he wanted to move quickly to make public as much information as possible. By Wednesday he had provided media with cellphone video of the shooting, the 911 call, dispatch tapes and surveillance video from a nearby store.
“I think the lessons learned from Ferguson were so crystal clear,” Dotson said.