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Police Officer Recounts His 13 Days In Ferguson

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed young, black man was killed by a Caucasian police officer. The site of the shooting became a growing memorial to Michael with flowers, photos, candles, cards and stuffed animals. Angry crowds gathered near the shooting site. Michael’s body lay unattended in the street for four and a half hours beneath a sheet while residents of Ferguson gawked, screamed, and grieved. The people who had come to remove the body from the street didn’t feel safe. They were waiting on police to secure the area so they could do their job. At night, the protesting escalates as rioters threw bottles, rocks, and Molotov cocktails. The streets become filled with smoke bombs, flash grenades, and tear gas. Criminals from outside Ferguson infiltrated the protesters. They turned a peaceful assembly into a dangerous mob. On day six, Governor Jay Nixon addresses the press, “What’s gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri’s about. It’s not what Ferguson is about. This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families, and go to church – a diverse community, a Missouri community. But lately, it’s looked more like a war zone and that is unacceptable.” The governor stated that in order for healing and reconciliation to begin they needed to address some very immediate challenges. Then he announced that the Missouri Highway Patrol, under the supervision of Captain Ron Johnson, who grew up in the area, would be directing the team that provides security in Ferguson. Ron had no insight or warning the governor would appoint him to this position. Thirty minutes later, Ron found himself addressing the media at a press conference. The press asked him what he would do differently to bring peace. Ron says he will walk with the people as if he belongs with them, as if he is one of them. He also prayed that God would not let there be blood on his hands and that every police officer and every person on the street would be safe.

That day he decided to march with the clergy on the streets of Ferguson. Ron proposed that the police come out wearing just their blue uniforms – no face guards, no gas masks, no vests, no riot gear at all. Previously, the police would line up wearing riot gear – shields, camouflage, gas masks, bulletproof vests and dogs restrained on leashes. Ron realized he was no one special but rather just a man who was marching as an instrument of God’s grace, mercy, and power. As Ron walked in the march people greeted him, encouraged him, and walked with him. The march felt more like a rally as people shook his hand and patted him on the back. Doubt still filled Ron’s head if he was doing the right thing with his unconventional approach to stabilize the streets of Ferguson. Just then a woman rushed toward him from the crowd and hugged him tightly. She says, “Thank God for you.” The woman seemed like an angel to Ron in that moment. He met her months later and learned her name was actually, Angela.

Ron’s focus while leading security operations in Ferguson was to bring about peace between the community and the local police. The Reverend Al Sharpton even called and encouraged Ron with the words, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Ron says it wasn’t easy trying to be in the middle and represent both sides. Some praised his willingness to engage with the community and media while some officers felt they were left at a loss. The key for Ron was sustaining life.
For many years, when Ron leaves his house for work he slides his “lucky buckeye” into his pocket. A friend gave it to him and told him, “Keep it with you. It will bring you luck.” One morning during the Ferguson chaos he was running late and chose to grab a cross attached to a string of rosary beads instead of the buckeye. Although Ron is not Catholic he instantly felt comforted by the rosary. Maybe because he replaced his belief in luck with his newfound belief in faith. Ron carried the rosary with him as he tried to stabilize the streets of Ferguson. One night, after bullets were fired and bottles were launched at officers, Ron ordered SWAT trucks in to support police on the street. He addressed the media and desperately tried not to unravel from the stress of it all. He reached into his pocket and griped the rosary beads and said, “This nation is watching each and every one of us. This nation is watching law enforcement. This nation is watching our media. If we’re going to solve this, we’re going to have to do it together. I want you to think about that tonight. We are going to have to do it together.” The rosary he carried during the chaotic days of Ferguson will be displayed in the Law Enforcement Museum in October.

“Thankfully, we can say that after Michael Brown’s death, we had no other fatalities,” shares Ron. After thirteen days, calm came to Ferguson as protests fizzled out. Ron spent more days speaking to community organizations and driving to businesses that were rebuilding. Three and a half months after Michael’s death, the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot and killed Michael. Protesters and rioters once again took to the streets of Ferguson, angry over the grand jury decision. After a couple of days, the tensions cool down. Ever since the events in Ferguson, Ron has embraced his faith more strongly than before. “Sometimes we shy away from talking about our faith in public, or even with our friends. I can tell you, I used to be one of those guys. And then Ferguson happened. Those days allowed me to reach deep inside me and find a depth of faith I never knew I had,” recalls Ron. At the start of every day, he told his police officers they were going to pray. As the days went on Ron began to notice that more and more officers began to close their eyes during the morning prayer and even saw tears coming down some of their faces. He says, “Faith is infectious.” After going through those thirteen days in Ferguson, Ron believes it is necessary to still reach out to each other. He does not walk the streets as much as he used to, but he still drives through the community and makes sure to stop, talk, and listen to the residents. “We need to get to know the people we serve and protect. We have to police poor communities the same way we police rich communities. The police need to be present, engaged, and seen,” shares Ron.

Mentioned in the Video



Guest Info


Author, 13 Days in Ferguson, (Tyndale Momentum, 2018)

CEO, Lodestone Solutions group, LLC

31 year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol

Tapped by Governor Jay Nixon to take control of security operations in riot-riven Ferguson in 2014

Credited with restoring peace to the fire-gutted streets of Ferguson

Received a Criminal Justice degree from Florissant Valley Community College

Graduate of Northwestern University Traffic Institute of Police Staff and Command

Graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, 2014

Married to Lori

Two adult children: Amanda and Bradley


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