As I write this, protests and occasional riots are still occurring in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The protests started in response to the killing of a black teen by a white police officer. The teen may have been robbing a convenience store at the time.
You can easily find news reports on the current situation by Googling “Ferguson”. I don’t need to rehash the details or the controversy here.
But several nights last week, the protests turned to riots, with excesses committed on both sides: protesters and thugs burned down a convenience store and looted shops, and the Ferguson police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas. For a few days, it looked like a full-on LA-style riot might be brewing.
Then the state police, under the command of Captain Johnson, took over on the 14th of August. And the tone of the situation changed.
First, he ordered the Ferguson police to put away their riot gear and armored vehicles. State police took over operations, but made no attempt to threaten or coerce.
Then he walked out among the protesters and started speaking to them. Directly, without so much as a bullhorn between him and them. And he didn’t just speak–he listened. And he promised to look into their concerns.
Captain Johnson understood that what those protesters really want is for somebody to listen to them, to hear what they have to say, to take some action to address their concerns. They weren’t getting that from the Ferguson police. What they didn’t want was more violence, but violence seemed to be the only way to get anyone’s attention (and to be fair, most of the looting and violence seems to have been driven by opportunists and thugs, while the protesters seem to be exercising an impressive degree of self-control).
He gave them his attention. He trusted them not to lose control. He bet his life on their desire to be heard over their desire for more violence.
To be sure, the situation in Ferguson still seems far from calm. People remain unconvinced that the police, or the government, will do anything to actually address their concerns. But Captain Johnson is making the concerned people part of the solution, rather than forcing them to be part of the problem.
We need more leaders like Ron Johnson. Leaders whose personal example reinforces their words. Leaders who are willing to risk their reputations and even their lives to ensure that the people they are sworn to serve get the service they deserve.
What do you think about the situation in Ferguson? What’s your opinion of Captain Johnson’s handling of the situation?