Things have cooled off in Ferguson, Missouri, now that the state police have taken over law enforcement.
The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas,” said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. “This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect.”
Nixon’s promise to ease the deep racial tensions was swiftly put to the test as demonstrators gathered again Thursday evening in the neighborhood where looters had smashed and burned businesses on Sunday and where police had repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.
But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell —the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.
All it took was a little respect. Oh, and getting rid of the 82nd Airborne-style weaponry.