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US National Guard to withdraw from Ferguson

Governor of Missouri orders withdrawal of forces from St Louis suburb where police killed an unarmed black teenager.

Last updated: 22 Aug 2014 02:13
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The governor of Missouri has ordered the withdrawal of National Guard troops from Ferguson, where tensions have eased after sometimes violent protests were staged nightly since police killed an unarmed black teenager.

Peaceful demonstrations overnight Wednesday were the calmest street gatherings in the small St Louis suburb since riots erupted over the August 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer.

The controversial shooting by Officer Darren Wilson prompted angry demonstrations along with looting and random gunfire from largely black crowds.

Police have used tear gas and heavy armoured vehicles to clear the streets and the Missouri National Guard was called in to help.

But the crowds have thinned, and the mood was decidedly less tense on Thursday. Police said six people were arrested overnight - far fewer than the scores detained on earlier nights of unrest.

Governor Jay Nixon, who ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing, said in a statement on Thursday: "We continue to see improvement," the Reuters news agency reported.

Situation 'de-escalating'

"Things are de-escalating," said Roy Harris outside Original Reds B-B-Q, located on West Florissant Avenue where many of the protests have taken place.

The restaurant has boarded up its windows but written in large letters in red paint on the plywood planks is the promise: "We will be back!!!" and workers were selling sandwiches in the parking lot next to an outdoor meat smoker.

"We are seeing the judicial process beginning," said Harris, who works as a youth counsellor in St Louis. "Voices are actually being heard."

Ferguson is predominantly black, but its police force, political leadership and public education administration are dominated by whites.

Activists and demonstrators have complained that Brown's death was the culmination of years of unfair police
targeting of blacks.

Police militarisation

In Washington, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill announced she would lead a Senate hearing next month to look at the militarisation of local police departments.

A US military programme that sends armoured cars, camouflage and other battlefield equipment to police departments has come under scrutiny as the protesters in Ferguson have been met by heavily armed police clad in body armour and driving heavy armoured vehicles.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said such displays should stop.

"At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply
concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message," Holder said last week.

A grand jury met on Wednesday to begin hearing evidence in the Brown case.

The process could take into October before the panel releases its findings, said St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch.

McCulloch, who is responsible for deciding whether to pursue criminal charges against the police officer, has held the top county prosecutor's job for 23 years and has promised an impartial investigation.

Many Ferguson residents, angry that the police officer in question is not in custody and has gone into hiding, fear that if there is no indictment, more street violence is inevitable.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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