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Plan For Grand Jury Verdict Lacked Follow-Through, Critics Say


Hundreds more Missouri National Guard troops were patrolling the streets of Ferguson last night. It helped. Protests continued but with much less violence than on Monday night. That deployment follows criticism that both the town and the state should have been better prepared for the outburst of anger and rioting that followed the announcement on Monday that a grand jury would not indict the police officer who shot and killed a young, African-American man. St. Louis Public Radio's Tim Lloyd reports.

TIM LLOYD, BYLINE: Let's start on Monday of last week. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has just issued a state of emergency and activated the Missouri National Guard. During a call with reporters, he's asked if the buck stops with him when it comes to how protesters will be handled by police.


GOVERNOR JAY NIXON: Well, I mean, we're - you know. You know, it - you know, our goal here is to, you know, keep the peace and allow folks' voices to be heard.

LLOYD: Nixon stumbles through the rest of the answer.


NIXON: I prefer not to be a commentator on it. I'm making decisions as a - in a - to make sure that we're all prepared for all contingencies.

LLOYD: At a press conference the next day, Nixon says he's ultimately in charge of public safety in the state. Fast-forward a week, and fires are still smoldering in Ferguson the morning after some protests turned explosive and violent. Police say heavy gunfire made it too dangerous for firefighters to respond quickly.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR PETER KINDER: What is the Guard for if not to go in and stop that?

LLOYD: That's Missouri's Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who seldom hesitates to criticize Nixon, a Democrat. Nevertheless, he backed Nixon's move to issue a state of emergency in advance of the grand jury's decision.

KINDER: Why a governor who had done that - who'd taken those proactive steps on the front end - would hold the Guard back is on the minds every law-abiding Missouri citizen and taxpayer.

LLOYD: Not the least of whom is Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who tried to be diplomatic in his criticism.


MAYOR JAMES KNOWLES: The decision to delay the deployment of the National Guard is deeply concerning. We are asking that the governor make available and deploy all necessary resources to prevent the further destruction of property and the preservation of life in the city of Ferguson.

LLOYD: Shortly after those comments, Governor Nixon announced he was calling in 1,500 more troops. Though some fear that decision embodies a militarized approach that could incite more violence. But David Klinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, says that's not the biggest issue here.

DAVID KLINGER: They are not people on sides of the divide that want to make things work for peaceful protest. All of the discussions, all of the meetings and all of the goodwill can be for naught if you've got these bad actors that want to act badly.

LLOYD: And the planning and discussions in the run-up to the grand jury's decision were exhaustive. Protesters held countless training events for nonviolence and conflict resolution. Politicians and religious leaders made repeated calls for peace. Protesters and the police were even able to agree on some guidelines for demonstrations. But activists didn't get the heads-up they wanted before the decision, which they argue would have helped them mobilize to keep the peace.

In the morning after the grand jury's decision, the crumpled-up remains of businesses smoldered on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. Police blocked off the road as a crowd gathered in the parking lot of Family of Faith Missionary Baptist Church. Rodney Vance lives nearby and is looking at the burned-out remains of local shops.

RODNEY VANCE: People that we depend and people that are here protect us - they don't have our back the way they supposed to. And I believe that the Guard could've protect the firefighters and policemen to get everything under control.

LLOYD: But holding on to control is slippery. And it's quite possible that as long as African-American residents like Rodney Vance feel so deeply disenfranchised, trust will become another casualty here. For NPR News, I'm Tim Lloyd in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Lloyd grew up north of Kansas City and holds a masters degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he launched digital reporting efforts for Harvest Public Media, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded collaboration between Midwestern NPR member stations that focuses on agriculture and food issues. His stories have aired on a variety of stations and shows including Morning Edition, Marketplace, KCUR, KPR, IPR, NET, WFIU. He won regional Edward R Murrow Awards in 2013 for Writing, Hard News and was part of the reporting team that won for Continuing Coverage. In 2010 he received the national Debakey Journalism Award and in 2009 he won a Missouri Press Association award for Best News Feature.