National Guard to Withdraw From Ferguson

(Reuters) -

The governor of Missouri ordered the withdrawal on Thursday of National Guard troops from riot-torn Ferguson, where tensions have eased after sometimes violent protests were staged nightly since police killed an unarmed black teenager.

Peaceful demonstrations overnight were the calmest street gatherings in the small St. Louis suburb since riots erupted over the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer.

The controversial shooting by Officer Darren Wilson prompted angry demonstrations along with looting and random gunfire from largely black crowds. Police have used tear gas and heavy armored vehicles to clear the streets, and the Missouri National Guard was called in to help.

But the crowds have thinned, and the mood is decidedly less tense. Police said six people were arrested overnight — far fewer than the scores detained on earlier nights of racial unrest.

Governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing from Ferguson, saying in a statement: “We continue to see improvement.”

In Washington, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill announced she would lead a Senate hearing next month to look at the militarization of local police departments.

A U.S. military program that sends armored cars, camouflage and other battlefield equipment to police departments has come under scrutiny as the protesters in Ferguson have been met by heavily armed police clad in body armor and driving heavy armored vehicles.

A grand jury met on Wednesday to begin hearing evidence in the Brown case. That process could take into October before the panel releases its findings, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch.

McCulloch, who is responsible for deciding whether to pursue criminal charges against the police officer, has held the top county prosecutor’s job for 23 years and has promised an impartial investigation.

Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, visited Ferguson on Wednesday and met with Brown’s parents. He promised a thorough investigation into the case that has fueled debate over the justice system’s treatment of African Americans.