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What will it take to restore calm and justice in the Ferguson community?

August 18, 2014 at 6:11 PM EST
The St. Louis-area community is struggling to keep order and heal divisions after more than a week of unrest over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. Judy Woodruff gets an update from Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today about the deployment of the National Guard, plus reaction from former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher and state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We take a closer look now at the situation in Ferguson, how the St. Louis, Missouri, area community is struggling to keep order and heal the divisions that continue to bring protesters out into the streets.

A short while ago, we spoke with USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who is in Ferguson.

Yamiche Alcindor, thank you for joining us again.

I want to start by asking you about reaction there to Governor Nixon’s decision to ended curfew and to call in the Missouri National Guard.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, USA Today: The reaction here was really mixed. I talked to a lot of people who were really happy to hear that the National Guard was coming in. People say that the businesses here are losing so much money and people who live in this neighborhood are terrorized because every night there is tear gas and there’s gunshots in their neighborhoods.

However, some people are really upset. I talked to one woman who said she feels like she’s in prison in her own neighborhood. And there, people really thought, you know, this is just even more militarizing of our neighborhoods. This is really the actual military.

And when the National Guard comes in, there is going to be soldiers walking down the street. So I think people are kind of mixed, but I think the majority of people I talked to are worried because that they thought this might get out of hand.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We just heard President Obama say in his news conference that he wants to make sure the National Guard is used in an appropriate and he said in a limited way. So it sounds like you’re saying that would be welcomed by the people there, if it is limited.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Yes, the people who are really for the National Guard and are looking forward to this are really saying, even though I’m looking forward to this, this really needs to be limited. This really needs to be people not just getting tear gas thrown at them because they are walking down the street at the wrong time of day.

It needs to be where people that are looting, people that are really causing the violence, they need to be the ones that the National Guard are arresting and the National Guard are taking into custody. The people or the peaceful protesters, they said that they really want to be left alone and they still want to be able to voice their opinions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yamiche, how clear is — a distinction is being made between folks who are protesting who are local residents and those who are coming in from the outside and maybe causing some of these problems?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: I think there are two very distinct groups.

I think there are people that are even coming in from outside of Ferguson who are still considered protesters. There are people that are peacefully protesting, that are chanting justice for Mike Brown, don’t shoot, hands up. There are people that once — once the curfew was in effect, they would leave.

But then there are the looters. And those are the people that actually — the protesters are actually clashing with the looters. The protesters are trying to get the looters to go home. They’re trying to get them to stay away from businesses. And those looters are the people that are picking up rocks and throwing it at the police. Those are the people that are breaking into the local businesses here.

So there are two distinct groups and they’re actually two distinct groups that are clashing. Protesters are trying to protect the city in a lot of ways. And what I saw last night, protesters are really trying to protect the city from looters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yamiche, we know you are talking about people all day long while you’re there. Reactions you’re hearing to the privately ordered autopsy that was — we heard a report on that today, the autopsy that was ordered by the family, and also reports that are now starting to come out about the version of what happened on the part of the police officer? What are you hearing about all that?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: People are very, very angry.

I think that that autopsy really escalated a lot of people’s anger toward the police, because people are saying, OK, not only did he not — did we think that he was shot with his hands up, but six times, especially with that pathologist saying that Michael Brown could have survived the first shots, but that last shot, that shot to his head, was the one that killed him.

So people here are really, really upset about that. There was a man here who was trying to order peace, who was trying to be a peacekeeper. And he said, you know, we really need time to digest this autopsy. So that tells just you that even the people that are trying to keep peace understand that the autopsy is really inflaming people. So, really, people are really upset here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the version of the story coming out from the police officer? Are you hearing any conversation about that?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: People are really thinking that the police officer is lying. A lot of people are saying that they think that this officer was strategically covered up by his department.

They say that it took so long for them to release his name, it took so long for them to do all these different things, that they really don’t trust any version coming out of the police department.

So a lot of people are saying that they really just don’t believe what the police are saying. And that’s why they are protesting. They say that that’s part of the problem, that it’s not just police brutality. It’s not just people being shot, but it’s also the cover-up, the idea that the cops are really trying to protect their own.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, so people — are they looking to the police department locally to prosecute this? Are they now — now that we know the attorney general is coming in, where are people looking now for justice, the next step?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Some people trust their local community. Some people trust their local prosecutor. They say let’s start the process here and see what happens.

So, I think some people are saying, you know, if the local prosecutor can get this done, if he can indict this officer for murder, which is what a lot of the protesters here want, then maybe we can trust the process.

But I think a lot of people, especially the community leaders and the people that have come in from outside, Reverend Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King Jr., they’re all saying that they want to see a federal investigation and a federal prosecution. So I think that there are people mainly from the outside that I think are starting — we want to try to see if there is a way for the federal government to prosecute.

But I think the people locally here are saying, well, let’s maybe start here, start in our neighborhood where Michael Brown was killed and then maybe we can take this federally if it gets to that point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yamiche Alcindor, reporter for USA Today on the ground there in Ferguson, Missouri, thank you.

And we turn now to two leaders in the community. Earlier this evening, I spoke with former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher and Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal.

Former Mayor Fletcher, State Senator Chappelle-Nadal, we thank you for joining us.

I want to ask you first about the governor’s decision to call in the National Guard. We just heard President Obama say he wants that to be a limited use of the Guard and in an appropriate manner.

Senator Chappelle-Nadal, what do you make of the decision to call out the Guard?

MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL, D, State Senator: Well, what I would agree to is that we certainly need some order in this community.

There are certain elements that have come into the Ferguson area that are not welcome. We have heard that anarchists have come from across the country to incite negativity in the community. And all Ferguson residents, all they want to do is to be able to protest in peace. And we just want to make sure there’s order and we do not have disturbances.

We want to make sure that all businesses are safe, and that every single resident is safe as they are protesting and trying to live their lives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Mayor Brian Fletcher, tell me, what is your reaction to calling out the Guard to patrol your community? And why do believe it’s been so hard to bring calm to the area?

FORMER MAYOR BRIAN FLETCHER, Ferguson: I don’t think anyone quite knows the answer why calm is not coming, except for a lot of unanswered questions at this point. I do believe the National Guard is necessary. We do need the protection of our businesses during the evening hours.

And I think this will help some of the destruction that’s occurring in the city.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Chappelle-Nadal, what is your sense of why it’s been so hard to get the situation calm?

MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL: Well, frankly, you have to go back to what I have been saying since day one, since I have been at ground zero. Governor Nixon has not come to ground zero, one or two. And it’s concerning to the residents who are the victims in the situation.

Most of the people here at ground zero are young people who have been intimidated and harassed at any given time. And they all see themselves as a Michael Brown. And because the governor has a disconnect with the community that is most affected, I think he just didn’t understand how to go about answering the needs of the community. And instead of leaning on the people who are affected at ground zero, he has relied on folks who have no connection to the people who are most impacted.

BRIAN FLETCHER: Judy, I — can I respond to the same question?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

BRIAN FLETCHER: All right.

First of all, Judy, most of the individuals coming into our community disrupting it are not from Ferguson itself. Very few of the protesters are actually from Ferguson. And definitely the people causing the violence are not from Ferguson.

What we need is, we need our children to go back to school. We don’t need the attention that we’re getting. Our city hall cannot function. We need the help of the National Guard. And, quite frankly, I don’t believe the media is helping. It is giving the opportunity for those that wish to do bad to actually show it on video.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just in the short time we have left, what do both — the two of you believe it is going to take to restore a calm to the community and a sense of confidence that justice will be done?

BRIAN FLETCHER: OK. I will start with that.

What the community is doing, we have organized a group called I Love Ferguson. We have ordered 3,000 yard signs that say “I Love Ferguson” that will sprout up through Ferguson. I raised $8,000 within 24 hours of $5, little boys bringing up change, and these signs will start being up on Wednesday morning.

MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL: Here’s the real deal.

The constituents in this community, they want justice. They want to make sure that this officer is arrested, that there is a grand jury, and then that there’s justice through the justice system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you both, Mayor and Senator Chappelle-Nadal.

BRIAN FLETCHER: Thank you.