Cross-posted from The Nation
The heavy weapons were locked away. The armored vehicles were parked. The riot gear was taken off in a moment that inspired Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery to suggest, "Suddenly, everything has changed." When the marchers took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, Thursday night, the tension was dialed down and the man in the crisp blue uniform walking with the crowd was Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
"It means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence," declared Johnson, an African-American with roots in Ferguson who was put in charge as part of a dramatic shift in the approach to policing that was announced by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
"I've assigned all police assigned to this detail to take their gas masks off," said Johnson, as he prepared to join the march. "I'm not afraid to be in this crowd today, that's why I walk up front. Hopefully, (Ferguson will experience) some healing."
The contrast between the chaos of previous nights in the city where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed last Saturday by a Ferguson police officer, and the image of Johnson marching with the crowd on Thursday was stark.
Lowery, who on Wednesday night was detained by police in Ferguson, summed the change up in a Tweet: "At this time at night on Monday, residents were in real fear for their lives. Tonight they're taking selfies with cops."
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