FERGUSON, Mo. – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the state 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, protests in the small section of town that had been the centre of nightly unrest have begun to subside. The quietest night was overnight Wednesday and 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 white prosecutor from the case.
Demonstrations began after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael 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.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, 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.
Meanwhile Thursday, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch reiterated 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. He said in a statement that Nixon must “end this distraction” or risk delay in resolution of the investigation.
A Nixon spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
A grand jury on Wednesday began considering evidence 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. 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 chant 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.
“I think the lessons learned from Ferguson were so crystal clear,” Dotson said.
Associated Press writer Nigel Duara in Ferguson contributed to this report. Salter reported from St. Louis.