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Restoring Peace in a Hostile Environment

Captain Ron Johnson shares how his faith in God sustained him and brought healing to the community after the Ferguson riots following Michael Brown’s death. Read Transcript

- Four years ago, on August9th, Ferguson, Missouri

became a city rife with riotsthat lasted for 13 days.

Out of the chaos rose ahero who bridged the divide

between black and blue byliterally walking across it.

(ominous instrumentals)

- [Narrator] Captain Ron Johnson,

a 31 year veteran of theMissouri Highway Patrol

became an unlikely hero in 2014,

five days after the fatalshooting of Michael Brown.

As riots ignited throughoutthe city of Ferguson,

Captain Ron was appointed by the Governor

with a seemingly impossible task

of restoring peacebetween an angry community

and the local police.

In his memoir, 13 Days in Ferguson,

Captain Ron recalls the turbulent

days and nights he encountered

while helping to stabilizethe city of Ferguson,

and how his faith sustainedhim through it all.

- Captain Ron Johnson is with us now.

A privilege to have you here.

- It's an honor to be here.

- Thanks for being with us.

When you heard of Michael Brown's death,

and the fact that he'dbeen laying in the streets

over four hours, did youknow right then and there

this was going to be a very,very volatile situation?

- Yes, I felt that a lot ofpeople were gonna be upset.

Because I began to imaginewhat if that were my son

and how would I feel?

- Looking back, do youthink you were prepared

emotionally, mentally,for what was to come?

- No.

- One thing that I thought wasvery profound in your book,

and your book's incredible,

we saw things on the newsbut we really get to see

what was in your heart during all this.

How you at one point prayed,

Lord, please help all of usendure the storm that is coming.

And God chose you to bea part of that answer.

Talk about that.

- I think when I wasfirst chosen, I asked why.

When I told people after a few hours,

I never questioned, God, why?

Because it didn't matter to me why.

I was just humbled andhonored that I was chosen.

- How about the fact, though,that when you found out

you were chosen to literallybring peace to this community,

and bridge the gap betweenprotestors and law enforcement,

you didn't have any noticethis was coming, right?

It was just announced.

- Yes, I was shocked.

It was at a meeting,

not knowing what wasgoing to be announced,

and that's not what I thoughtwas going to be announced.

When it was said, I wasshocked and taken back.

- After multiple days of unrest, violence,

chaos in the community,

as one of your first major decisions,

it was a departure maybefrom what law enforcement

was planning to do, andwhat was that decision?

- My decision was to walk downthe street and see the faces,

and hear the voices, and then that way,

I would know what my challengewas and what I needed to do.

And not have someone tell mewhat other people were feeling.

I wanted them to tell me.

- Why did you make the

specific decision not to be in riot gear?

That was a big part of it, right?

You were in your blue uniform.

Why did that make adifference to the community?

- I wanted to the community to know

that I was a part of the community.

And that I didn't needprotection from them.

When I began to walk down the street,

people began to come out and embrace me

and a group of women prayed for me.

When those women prayed for me,

a peace came over me, and a calm.

The crowd calmed down when those women

were praying for me in that circle.

They stopped yelling, theystopped throwing items.

So I knew that would be my shield.

- Leadership is hard enough.

How about the fact thatboth sides, so to speak,

law enforcement and protestors,thought you were betraying.

How would they each view you,

why would they each thinkyou're betraying them?

- Because I wore the badge,

so the policemen wantedme to be on that side.

Because of the color of my skin,

mainly the protestors were of color,

and so they wanted me to be on that side.

And lot of the otherprotestors that were out there

for other reasons andother things that they saw

were indifferent in ourcommunity, in our country,

one, for me to be on that side.

I decided I needed to walkthe middle of the road

and whatever courtesism camewith that, I needed to take.

Because that was myresponsibility, to bring peace.

- You had overall courtesism.

Also, people were thankingyou for what you were doing.

In particular, there wasone instance I believe,

multiple days into this,where the law enforcement

was in their riot gear, readyto head to a particular area

that was really under a chaotic scene.

You held them back.

You're literally hearinglaw enforcement behind you,

disappointed in your decision.

How, as a leader, did you cope with that,

having so many disappointed inthe decisions you're making?

- Initially, I was goingto let those officers go

and address that situation.

But then I knew the reasonI was going to let them go

was because I wanted to win them over.

I wanted them to believethat I was on their team.

- Want their approval, in a sense.

- Yes.

But then I decided thatwas being a selfish leader

because it wasn't about me.

It's about their safety andthe safety of those protestors.

So I decided that if I wasgoing to be a true leader,

that I needed to stand

and take whatever came with that decision.

- Did your faith in Godevolve during this time,

looking back on it?

- Yes it did.

It became much stronger.

I also talk about it, that moment.

A lot of moments I felt all alone.

I remember that first timegetting getting on my knees

and saying, God, I'm alonein this, I have no one.

He was like, you have no one?

You've got me.

And you just have to have faith in me.

- Your wife

supported you, your family supported you.

How do you mean you stillfelt alone at times?

- My wife, every night when I came home,

no matter what time it was, she was there.

I didn't want to worry her.

So I'd come home and nothave this conversation.

I'd come home and just getinto bed and lay on my pillow

and weep away from her.

I felt alone and when you're walking

in the middle of that roadand have people coming at you.

My father and brother had passed away,

so I didn't have that.

I just felt like this was justme, but it wasn't just me.

There were my faith, and therewere a lot of people there

supporting me, whetherthey voiced it or not.

- Reading your book, I wasthinking of Jesus in the sermon

on the mountain when he said,"Blessed are the peacemakers."

He didn't just say blessedare the peacekeepers.

You were a peacemaker.

Has anything improved in thefour years since Ferguson?

Relationally, you think,between black and white?

- Yes, I think we'rehaving some conversations

and I always say this, inch-by-inch.

We have to have a lotof other conversations.

We have to share our experiences

and make sure we find value in each other.

A gentleman came and spoke with me,

and I talk about it in the book.

He says, Captain, I'm hearinga lot about black and white.

He says, but it's truly about humanity.

- One overriding themein your book, I think is,

there shouldn't be, if we canhelp it, sides to the issue.

That's really one thing you really tried

to bring to this situation,was, can we try and be one?

- Yes, and come to that middle of the road

and walk that tough path together.

- It's a great book, Iencourage you to get it.

It is called, 13 Days in Ferguson.

It is available wherever books are sold

and it's tremendous.

Thank you so much for being here.

- Thank you very much.

Once again, it's an honor.


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