Washington: The state trooper appointed on Thursday to bring peace back to a Missouri town rocked by a racially charged killing said he has a personal interest in rehabilitating relations between police and "my community and my home”.
Hours after he got the job, Captain Ron Johnson, an African-American, showed up at a peaceful march that marked a radical change from earlier protests over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager last weekend.
Johnson hugged and shook hands with demonstrators, reporters at the scene said, a far cry from the heavily armed riot police who shot tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters earlier in the week.
"We`re all in this together... we`re not in this for fear, to intimidate," Johnson said, according to a Washington Post reporter in Ferguson, who had been briefly arrested on Wednesday in a McDonald`s after police entered the eatery and ordered people to leave.
"When I see a young lady cry because of fear of this uniform, that`s a problem. We need to solve that," the reporter also quoted Johnson as saying.
Johnson promised he would not blockade the streets, would help protect residents` rights to assemble and protest and would set up a media staging center, the Post reported.
He ordered officers managing the crowds to remove their gas masks.
Speaking to CNN, Johnson vowed to provide safety and security to all in order to "preserve what is my community."
"I walk down here from my church, people I went to school with and people that I feel are a part of this," he added.
"And there is frustration in my household too. I have a young son that is 21 and a daughter that is 23. And I have to answer the same questions that the parents out here have to answer."
Governor Jay Nixon said the decision to draft in the Missouri Highway Patrol had been taken after Ferguson was left looking "like a war zone" by the police response to the unrest.
But it did not go unnoticed that Nixon had chosen a black trooper to take over operations in a town with an African-American majority after an incident widely blamed on the perceived racism of the mainly white police force.
Johnson called for "true diversity" in police departments across the United States.
"I think a police department should reflect the community that they serve," he told CNN. Johnson said police would show respect as they try to restore calm.
"I grew up here, and this is currently my community and my home," he told reporters.
Johnson grew up in nearby St Louis, earned a criminal justice degree and joined the highway patrol in 1987, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch.
For the past 12 years, he has served as the commanding officer for the Missouri Highway Patrol`s Troop C, which serves the 11-county St Louis region.
And Johnson`s father-in-law, Charles McCrary, was a deputy police chief for the St Louis Police Department before he retired, according to the newspaper.
"It means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence and build trust, and show the utmost respect," Johnson said at a press conference, adding that he understands "the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling."
Police shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday in Ferguson, triggering protests and then a police crackdown in which authorities fired tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested reporters, sparking complaints that were echoed by President Barack Obama.
Brown`s death and the police`s subsequent actions have stirred comparisons with the February 2012 fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida by a member of a neighbourhood safety patrol.