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Ferguson Unrest; Missouri Governor to Deploy More Troops

Aired November 25, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, and I am live in Ferguson, Missouri, standing in front of just some of the damage that occurred during last night's riots.

This used to be a beauty salon behind me, Prime Beauty. No longer. After a grand jury decided against indicting police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, rioters and police Ferguson and the surrounding area spent much of the night clashing.

You're looking right now at live pictures from Baltimore, where protesters are starting to merge and shut down local traffic. More demonstrations are also happening right now in Atlanta, Georgia, and nearby, from where I am in Saint Louis.

Last night, protests across the country from New York City to Chicago, Philadelphia to Seattle, remained mostly peaceful. We are also at this hour awaiting press conferences from both Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, both of whom will be commenting on the violence here in Ferguson and where this community and this country go from here.

Law enforcement here in Ferguson sent people scurrying for cover from tear gas canisters last night as rioters flooded into local stores, coming out seconds later with bundles of goods. The Saint Louis County police arrested 61 people last night, the Saint Louis City police another 21.

Maybe the most intense scene of the night, however, happened when Michael Brown's mother in video captured by "The New York Times" was so racked with grief, so overwhelmed with raw emotion that she was unable to do anything but sob uncontrollably into her hands, presumably over the death of her son and the failure of the grand jury to indict his killer.

Brown's mother and father both have, for months, been urging peace. Both have for months been urging the community to not answer violence with more violence in the immediate aftermath of the verdict.

But this is what Brown's stepfather, Louis Head, had to say last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burn this bitch down!


TAPPER: In a press conference today, an attorney for the Brown family denounced the riots and the violence and tried to turn the focus back on prosecutor Robert McCulloch and his failure to deliver an indictment of officer Darren Wilson.


ANTHONY GRAY, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF MICHAEL BROWN: He indicted him himself. Most of what he said did not line up with the physical or the forensic evidence.


TAPPER: Now, today, just within the past couple of hours, officer Wilson who has been quiet since the August 9 shooting, at least publicly, he's talking. ABC's George Stephanopoulos says he spoke with Wilson for over an hour. And the officer insisted to Stephanopoulos that he was just doing his job, that he would not do anything differently.

And he told Stephanopoulos that Michael Brown's skin color did not matter. He also said that he was sorry that Brown lost his life. With a federal probe into both the handling of the Brown case and the Ferguson Police Department itself looming, this matter, this debate is far from over.

But for some local business owners, their lives in Ferguson as they knew them, well, they may very well be over. In a press conference moments ago here on CNN, Ferguson's mayor, James Knowles, said the National Guard was not deployed on time to save businesses from the fire. And now that most of the flames have fizzled out, 12 buildings and many livelihoods are now reduced to ash.


TAPPER (voice-over): The day after, stores and livelihoods, people's dreams destroyed, looted, trashed and torched. How did we get here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop throwing objects at the police.

TAPPER: Last night was one of palpable disappointment and anger.

ROBERT MCCULLOCH, SAINT LOUIS COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against officer Darren Wilson.

TAPPER: Protesters sad, angered, furious that officer Darren Wilson will not face any charges in the killing of Michael Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't see a lot of peaceful protests out there tonight, and I'm disappointed about that.

TAPPER: Police disappointed that unrest spilled over into destruction.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.

TAPPER: And the president largely unheard, at least by the violent demonstrators he attempted to appeal to in the midst of it all. They were oblivious to his calls for calm.

Before the grand jury decision was announced, hundreds gathered in front of the Ferguson Police Department. The crowd grew more reckless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop throwing objects at the police immediately, or you will be subject to arrest.

TAPPER: Destroying police cars, even setting them on fire. It was surreal covering this. In my earpiece, I heard President Obama pleading for peace and encouraging the media to focus on the positive.

OBAMA: We have to make sure that we focus at least as much attention on all those positive activities that are taking place as we do on a handful of folks who end up using this as an excuse to misbehave.

TAPPER: True, most in Ferguson were not on the streets rioting. Most were likely at home. But the disconnect was jarring. It was as if I was listening to a speech from another time or from another planet far from this one.

Fewer than two hours after the grand jury's decision was announced, tear gas was being used by police to clear the police, even while the police Twitter account insisted it was only shooting smoke. That was definitely not the case.

(on camera): There's glass all over.

(voice-over): Pushed down the street along with everyone else, my crew and I witnessed the devastation of a city block vandalized, looted. A woman, a local pastor, pleaded with those stealing from Beauty World to stop. They did not listen. Cars pulled up with people inside struggling to deal with the tear gas. As the gas affected more demonstrators, some became enraged at the scene unfolded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They tear gassed a girl. They throw gas on the girl on top of her body. She's passed out. And they started throwing tear gas at the crowd.

TAPPER: Frustrations in the fractured community were clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You all should have seen this coming.

TAPPER: While, in downtown Ferguson, businesses were being burned.

At one point, we began filming these men with bricks in their hands. Then we, too, were attacked. It was all the kind of scene Ferguson officials had said they had prepared for, but had hoped to avoid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we are going to survive at all, we're going to have to come together and what happened tonight can't happen, can't continue on.


TAPPER: So just how do authorities prevent tonight from becoming a repeat of last night? One of the buildings that went down in flames was the HEAL STL, that stands for Saint Louis, HEAL STL office.

Saint Louis Alderman Antonio French opened that outpost after Michael Brown was shot and killed. And he he's with me now.

Alderman French, thanks so much for joining us.

First of all, I want to get your reaction to the remarks of Michael Brown's stepfather last night, because that was a very intense and heated moment. And, look, this is not a problem that was created last night, but I don't think that what he said, "Burn this down, burn this bitch down," how do you think that contributed, if at all, to what happened last night?

ANTONIO FRENCH, SAINT LOUIS ALDERMAN: So I was there when that happened. And I think he was expressing a sentiment that a lot of folks in that crowd felt.

And when he said those words, though, the mood did change, and things got a little bit out of control. I just think there is such anger and emotion around this topic, around this case. And I think it was an incredibly poor choice to release the announcement late at night and to presumably do that without coordinating with law enforcement. It just looked like government was not prepared.

TAPPER: It's so strange, because for months, since we started covering this story in August, the community, community leaders like yourself, law enforcement, everyone was talking about preparing for this announcement. I don't think anybody had any real doubts that there was not going to be an indictment handed down.

That certainly seemed to be the suggestion we were hearing from law enforcement officials from leaks. What happened? What went wrong?

FRENCH: I'm not sure what went wrong. They even had a press conference just a few hours before.

I think the state officials had said that every contingency had been prepared for, but when I was out there on West Florissant, there were no politics, no National Guardsmen and chaos.

TAPPER: You were on West Florissant outside. That's where the police headquarters was, or is that South Florissant?

FRENCH: That's South Florissant.

TAPPER: South Florissant. So, West Florissant is the main drag right near where Michael Brown was shot.

FRENCH: That's where most of the buildings were set on fire.

TAPPER: And there were no police there?

FRENCH: There were no police out there.

So, that's where the Heal STL office was. I walked out there as a large crowd started to form. I saw some people started to pull down those boards and enter. I called police and it took them a while to come, but the fact is that no one was there and ready.

It seems like we got all of the negative sides of preemptively calling a state of emergency, but none of the benefit. So we didn't see National Guardsmen out last night.

TAPPER: One last question, and this is a tough question, but, look, in the past few months, when there have been arrests, often the people arrested were not from Saint Louis, not from Missouri even. Last night, most of the people arrested were from Saint Louis area.

FRENCH: Yes. Yes.

You got a -- so back in August, during those worst days, when there was a lot of violence, there were a lot of locals who were angry and willing to go to war with the police.


TAPPER: I have to interrupt you. I'm so sorry.

But Governor Jay Nixon is speaking right now. I apologize. He's holding a press conference with members of law enforcement. Let's listen in.

GOV. JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: All right. Good afternoon and thank everybody for joining us.

First, let me introduce who is with me today.

Chief Dan Isom, the director of the Department of Public Safety of the state of Missouri, Colonel Ron Replogle of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Chief Jon Belmar, the Saint Louis County Police Department, Assistant Chief Al Adkins of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department. We're also joined by Major General Stephen Danner, the adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, as well as Brigadier General Gregory Mason from the Missouri National Guard.

Last night, criminals intent on lawlessness and destruction terrorized this community, burning buildings, firing gunshots, vandalizing storefronts and looting family businesses, many for the second time.

I am deeply saddened for the people of Ferguson who woke up this morning to see parts of their community in ruins. I just came from West Florissant. It's a heartbreaking sight.

Seniors afraid to leave the house, school canceled, kids scared to go outside and play. What they have gone through is unacceptable. No one should have to live like this. No one deserves this. We must do better and we will. This morning and into this afternoon, I met with Guard and law

enforcement leaders. All agreed that the violence we saw in the areas of Ferguson last night cannot be repeated. That's why in order to protect lives and property, we're bringing more resources to Ferguson and other parts of the region to prevent a repetition of the lawlessness experienced overnight.

The National Guard presence will be ramped up significantly in Ferguson and ensuring that they are ready to act quickly to prevent violence.

First, we are deploying hundreds of additional Guardsmen to Ferguson who will be stationed throughout the community to protect homes and businesses. With these additional citizen shoulders, law enforcement officers will be better able to focus on protecting lives and property in the community.

The Missouri National Guard will also continue to provide security at critical locations, including the Ferguson Police Department. Last night, more than 700 Guardsmen were at nearly 100 vital facilities throughout this region in both the city and the county. And I thank them for their work.

It's a testament to the professionalism of local law enforcement, Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Guard that no one was killed or seriously injured last night. Third, the Guard's rapid response teams will be positioned so that they are ready to act at a moment's notice if challenges arise.

Altogether, there will be more than 2,200 National Guardsmen in the region. Lives and property must be protected. This community deserves to have peace. We will provide safety and security to the region. I know this morning that there is pain in the hearts of this community. I also know that it is vital for us to understand how we got to this place and how to make it better.

I continue to be heartened by the steadfast work that so many people in this region are doing on behalf of peace and understanding to avert violence and move forward together.

I will now call on some folks to say something and I will be glad to take questions. Let me first call on the commander here, Brigadier General Gregory Mason.

General Mason.


As in August, the Missouri National Guard will deploy a trained and ready professional force, our soldiers were equipped to do the job in August. We returned to Ferguson and this region and we'll continue to do a good job and protect the citizens and life and property. So, again, we're here to -- as trained and ready soldiers to do what we've always done and that's to serve the citizens of the state of Missouri.

NIXON: Thank you, General.

The colonel of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Colonel Ron Replogle.

COL. RON REPLOGLE, MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL: Governor. I just want to say that we have worked with the National Guard many times throughout the past years in disasters around the state. Last night was a disaster. And we're prepared to team up again with the National Guard, with the other local law enforcement to address this tonight.

As the governor said, we cannot have a repeat of what happened last night. It was very disappointing for me to watch the hard work of Chief Belmar, Chief Dotson and Captain Johnson over the last 100-plus days, the tremendous work that they've been doing go up in flames so to speak last night. They will work more, they will work harder, and we will work harder, but we will not have a repeat of last night's activities.

Thank you.

NIXON: Thank you, Colonel.

Now, I call on the chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, Chief Jon Belmar.


I'd like to thank General Mason for the assistance he's going to give us. You know, last night, we have about 400 plus police officers down there before we called 60 officers from St. Louis City, and another 100 officers from municipalities. So, I think it just goes to show you the value that the guard can bring to us for protection, different things such as that.

And the message here is, our community not only needs to be safe, they need to feel safe and I appreciate the governor's leadership and certainly, General Mason's troops in that regard.

Thank you.

NIXON: Thanks, Chief.

The director of public safety of state of Missouri, Director Dan Isom.

DAN ISOM, DIRECTOR OF MISSOURI PUBLIC SAFETY: It was clear that last night was a disappointment, a disappointment in so many ways. So much work has been done by the unified command in the last 100 days, and we deployed many officers out in the area and, unfortunately, there was a group of people who were intent on causing violence and mayhem.

We will do better tonight. There will be a significant presence in the community and we hope that we will protect the property and protect the businesses of those people in Ferguson and also throughout the city of St. Louis and our community.

NIXON: Thank you, Director. Glad to take any questions.

REPORTER: Why didn't you deploy the National Guard promptly, specifically (INAUDIBLE)

NIXON: No. I mean, we had, as I said before, we had about 700 guardsmen in 100 locations in the city and county last night. Late last night, early this morning and I'm not sure exactly the time, late last night, we deployed guardsmen to the Ferguson police department as additional force strength there and as was indicated by the folks here, we have -- we'll continue that mission along with the other two missions that we talked about, expand the role of the guard.

We're working to make sure there's public safety and that the guard is -- that that force is used in a way to make sure that tonight is a safer night.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) the Ferguson's mayor's comments that it's deeply disturbing that you waited until today after last night's events to do this, increase (INAUDIBLE) with the National Guard?

NIXON: I didn't. We had 700 guardsmen out throughout the region that went out early last evening, including late last night, guardsmen deployed directly to the Ferguson Police Department. So I say that --

REPORTER: But you have more than 2,000 now (INAUDIBLE) --

NIXON: That's the force strength we'll have in the area. We'll have a significant number out tonight, but obviously, work shifts. But the bottom line is that we are going to -- as I said before, we're going to continue to up their numbers here and work with the unified command to make sure that we keep things calm and safe.


REPORTER: Governor, was the National Guard on West Florissant before the looting and the burning of the buildings happened? And, if not, why weren't they there?

NIXON: The National Guard was part of the unified command. They were providing service throughout the area so that officials would be freed up to be part of that command. As I said before, we had 700 guardsmen in the region that doing a lot of static work out there such that others couldn't.

We certainly had a guard at the command post and as I said, later tonight, we had guard at the Ferguson Police Department. But we will have more out there tonight and we will continue to provide resources.

I promised over here first. Yes?

REPORTER: How many national guardsmen did you have in Ferguson last night? You keep saying in the region --

NIXON: As I said before, we had some. I'm not sure of the exact number and somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 at the police department eventually as the night went on.

REPORTER: As far as Governor Kinder is concerned, he is saying that you may have been pressured by the Obama administration, by the Justice Department to not deploy a number of these guardsmen to Ferguson and actually do something as opposed to just guard federal buildings and city buildings. Can you please respond to this charge?

NIXON: That is false and absurd. And politics has nothing to do with what any of the folks up here are doing. We're doing our duty. You have behind me a series of sworn officers, you have hundreds of people out there putting their lives on the line each and every night. Politics has not one bit to do with the tasks at hand, the responsibilities at hand, and the seriousness of this mission.

Yes, sir?

REPORTER: Governor, you had a plan one time (INAUDIBLE) guardsmen, why did you change that plan?

NIXON: I'm not -- once again, I don't --

REPORTER: Why did unified command change that plan?

NIXON: I'm not going to go through operational things other than we've been working these plans for a period of time. Obviously, we're going to have more folks out there tonight. We're moving folks into that area but we want to stay agile also.

And the bottom line is that as we look towards missions we're putting out, we had 700 guardsmen out there that were disperse in the area, most of those were in a position such that they could free up certified officers that could be freed up to be agile in the force.

Tonight, we'll put additional guardsmen out to make sure things are even safer.

REPORTER: Are you just deploying military policemen out there or are you putting any infantrymen out dealing with people?

NIXON: We'll have force as appropriate for the task that are in play.

REPORTER: Will you have infantry dealing with protesters?

NIXON: Like I said, we will have the force necessary to deal with it. We -- I'm confident our folks are trained and ready.

Yes. Art, go ahead.

REPORTER: Any consideration about shutting down West Florissant tonight or going forward?

NIXON: There's going to be a lot of folks there, a lot of guard, a lot of other resources. We're certainly looking at those as options.

But I think what people want is peace. What they want is safety. We've got to get through to that point where the people of this region are confident to walk up and down their streets. And the best way we can do that is to deal with the issues we have, that are facing right now, in a strong, unified way to make sure that the people of this region on their streets, not that we have to have guardsmen or police officers or things of that nature, we're trying to get to a place -- back to a place where the city of Ferguson and the region felt comfortable walking around with their families, walking around with their kids. That's our goal not to shut the place down.

Thank you all very, very much.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That was Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and local law enforcement talking about how they are going to prevent tonight in the Ferguson, St. Louis area from becoming what happened last night.

Coming up, protesters are gathering in several major cities. Right now, what started as small groups of people -- well, it's now grown into hundreds, marching in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, and, of course, Ferguson. That's coming up.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper live in Ferguson, Missouri, with our national lead.

It could be some time, of course, before we learn what is next for Officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury decided not to indict him in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in that incident in August. We just heard from Ferguson's mayor that Wilson is still on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez, and I also want to bring in State Representative Jeff Roorda, who is also a business manager for the local police union.

Evan, let me start with you. What can you tell us about this press conference? What stuck with you?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what was remarkable, Jake, was that the mayor of Ferguson told reporters that he hasn't talked to Governor Nixon, the governor we just heard from at the top of the show, since August. And he said he was calling last night to try to see if he can get some help from the National Guard deployed to the city, couldn't get anybody on the phone.

Now, you know, it's just a really fascinating thing here where it seems to be a lack of leadership where you have the governor who can't answer the question of where the buck stops and Mayor Knowles also seemed to have the same problem of saying, who is to blame? The city is burning and he can't seem to be able to communicate with people.

TAPPER: He tried to get through to the governor to get National Guard deployed to Ferguson and he didn't get a return call?

PEREZ: And he couldn't get a return call. And, you know, keep in mind, the governor has been criticized for declaring a state of emergency too soon and he kept the National Guard out of sight, really, for the last few days. Maybe that played into how the deployment happened yesterday. We don't know.

But he seemed to be saying that they are going to be a little more visible.


All right. Jeff Roorda, let me ask you, you spoke with Officer Wilson last night. What was his response to the decision by the grand jury? What was his response to what happened last night?

JEFF ROORDA (D), MISSOURI STATE HOUSE: You know, Darren's first concerns are with his fellow police officers. He's very worried that there are officers in harm's way over something that happened to him while he's sidelined and then that would be difficult for any police officer.

TAPPER: Well, et me ask you, because obviously the policemen union deals with a lot of incidents, not as many this high profile, I would imagine. When it comes to a police officer in a situation like this where has been accused of things and ultimately cleared, how -- and I don't mean this to sound accusatory, but how could he go back to work at the Ferguson police department? Wouldn't that be awkward for him? Wouldn't it be potentially difficult for him to do?

ROORDA: Well, there would certainly be safety and security concerns. We're nowhere close to that point. You know, Darren still potentially faces federal civil rights charges.