Missouri Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Sunday defended his state’s response to racial unrest in Ferguson, saying the curfew he imposed Saturday night had been successful. He also condemned some actions taken by the local police who had previously been in charge of the situation.
“Last night’s curfew, I think everybody worked well," Nixon told CNN’s Candy Crowley in one of three appearances on the Sunday morning political talk shows. "We’re always disappointed when things aren’t perfect. But thousands of people spoke last night, thousands of people marched and not a single gunshot was fired by a member of law enforcement last night."
In fact, the scene overnight in Ferguson was not as peaceful as the governor suggested. Police in riot gear used tear gas and smoke bombs to break up crowds of protesters who refused to abide by the curfew. At least 7 people were arrested and one person was shot.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nixon suggested to guest host Andrea Mitchell that tensions between local and state authorities remain high after he put the state Highway Patrol in charge of the scene several days into the turmoil.
On Friday, local police in Ferguson sparked a new wave of violence when they released surveillance video of Michael Brown, the black teenager whose shooting death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer initially tipped off the protests, apparently stealing cigarillos from a local convenience store. To many, the video seemed irrelevant to the incident as the police officer who shot and killed Brown was apparently unaware the teen was a suspect in the robbery.
Nixon told Mitchell that neither he, nor the Highway Patrol, nor federal officials knew the video was going to be released.
“Quite frankly we disagree with it deeply, for two reasons” he said. “Number one, to attempt to, in essence, disparage the character of this victim in the middle of a process like this is not right -- it’s just not right. And secondarily, it did put the community...on alert again.”
Nixon added that his team has had “very serious discussions” with the police chief who released the video, but stopped short of calling for the officer's resignation. “A police chief began an attempt to attack his character -- that’s just not the way to operate and we’ve made that clear to everyone,” he said.
Beyond that, Nixon was not very forthcoming with information.
Pressed repeatedly by Mitchell and Crowley when the judicial process might move forward against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown, Nixon deferred to the local prosecutor and to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who are each leading separate, parallel investigations into the shooting. The FBI sent 40 officers to area to aid the investigation late this week.
Nixon also gave few hints about when the curfew might be lifted, acknowledging it “could be” several days. “We'd like to see it ratcheted down. That will be judged by the community,” he told CNN.
The two-term governor is a potential future leader of the Democratic Party, but has been criticized for his handling of the situation in Ferguson this week.