Missouri Governor Defends Order Not to Break Up Ferguson Riots

Curtis Kalin | February 20, 2015 | 1:50pm EST
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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) (AP File Photo)

Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO) is facing angry inquiries over his decision not to allow the Missouri National Guard to deploy and quell the Ferguson riots last November.

An Associated Press report on January 10 alluded to a meeting where Nixon had rejected a plan to station the National Guard in front of the Ferguson police headquarters the night of the riots.

The email also made reference to a request to Gov. Jay Nixon to place the National Guard in front of Ferguson police headquarters on the date of the grand jury announcement. "Apparently the guard will not move to the FPD per the governor," the email said.

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was granted access to new documents that showed the National Guard troops were not authorized to halt the violence. “Guardsmen were not authorized to shoot to protect property in Ferguson, make arrests, or even stop people from committing most crimes.”

“That was never the plan, to have the Guard in Ferguson,” Adjutant Gen. Stephen Danner said.

The documents show the top priority for high-level figures was to change the image of police away from “an overmilitarized response” that marred the August protests and riots.

With those intentions, Gov. Nixon ordered the Guard to “minimize external public appearance” and would not station troops in Ferguson.

The job of the Guard in Ferguson that night was to simply act as listening posts. They “could only fire their weapons if they feared imminent death or serious bodily injury to themselves or others.”

Missouri State Highway Patrol field operations commander, Maj. Bret Johnson told the Post-Dispatch, “We made that decision to choose life over property.”

Gov. Nixon heatedly responded to criticism of his order saying, “It was clearly not the best path forward to get into a gunfight on the street,” said Nixon. “... In the hierarchy of responsibilities, saving lives was first, behind it was saving property.”

Nixon had stated prior to the riots that “violence will not be tolerated.”

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