On Aug. 9, 2014, severe unrest began in Ferguson, Missouri after a white police officer fatally shot local resident Michael Brown. Violent protests raged for 13 days, revealing deep divides in both the community and the nation. The streets of Ferguson became a battleground as protestors smashed storefronts and blocked intersections, facing off against police in riot gear.
Four years later, the man charged with bringing peace to Ferguson says his faith played a strong role in helping to end the violence there and resolve the conflict.
Capt. Ron Johnson tells CBN News he was able to walk a middle ground between an angry African-American community and the local police by revealing himself as not just a police officer but as a father, son, friend, husband and man of faith.
"I think people saw my faith," he said during our interview Thursday. "When I look at that incident, by the time it ended people were praying on the streets. People were hugging each other. Clergy came out.There were revivals in Ferguson--people were giving their life back to Christ."
In his new book, 13 Days in Ferguson, Johnson recounts how the governor tapped him, just minutes before a national press conference, to lead security in Ferguson during the unrest. At the time, he had no idea how he would begin to resolve the situation.
He remembers the pain of feeling stuck between his fellow police and the African-American community. "I remember one time getting on my knees and praying and saying 'God I'm all alone,' and at that moment He said, 'You're not alone. You just have to understand who's with you.'"
Shortly after, a group of women on the street prayed for him. Spurred on by that prayer, he decided to stop wearing his bullet-proof vest.
"I didn't want the people to think that I was afraid of them," he said. He also sensed God's protection. "I felt that I was shielded and that when I walked those streets I felt a calm."
Johnson told CBN News that he also remembers a calm in moments of public prayer during the unrest, when he would stand before crowds and people would pray for him in a circle. "During those prayer moments the name-calling would stop. People wouldn't be throwing items," he said.
Many in the community noticed his new boldness in talking about spiritual ideas. "People would even say to me, 'I've known you a long time. You've never talked about your faith in the manner you're talking about it now. Why are you sharing it now?' And I said, 'In our darkest moments--where else do we go?'"
Today, Johnson leads the Missouri State Highway Patrol's office of community engagement and outreach. He says Ferguson is moving forward "inch by inch." He notes that more businesses are moving in, the school district has improved and received accreditation again and the police department has become more diverse.
"People are trying," he said. "We're still trying to find a way to get to that point where we can say that it's great."
He also credits Ferguson for restarting the national conversation on racial justice and reconciliation. "We need to continue to have that conversation because we're always going to have differences but it's how we embrace those, how we embrace our implicit bias and what we do with those biases," he said.