FERGUSON, Mo. - Gov. Jay Nixon will pull St. Louis County police out of Ferguson after four days of angry protests over the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Sen. Claire McCaskill confirmed on Thursday.
Nixon traveled to Ferguson Thursday to meet with church and community leaders about the unrest.
"It is my understanding that the county police will be taken off the investigation," the Democratic senator said.
"The police response needs to be demilitarized, " she said after meeting with clergy. "I think the police response has become part of the problem as opposed to being part of the solution. We all got to take a deep breath and realize that the vast majority of people protesting have a constitutional right ... They are my bosses and I want to make sure they have an environment of safety and respect."
St. Louis County police have been in charge of the investigation into the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday and with securing the streets of the city during the confrontations between protesters and police.
It was not immediately clear how removing the county police force would affect the Ferguson police department, which is a separate law enforcement entity. It was a Ferguson police officer who was involved in the fatal shooting of the teenager that has angered the largely African-American community of around 20,000 people.
At a meeting of St . Louis area clergy on Thursday, residents and pastors complained that the environment has become similar to a war zone.
"We should not be looking like Iraq, Beirut, Israel, the Gaza Strip," said Rev Robert Scott of the Central Baptist Church in St. Louis.
Residents said the city in recent days had been marked by burning trash cans and police officers blocking mothers from getting out of their neighborhoods so they can buy formula.
The St. Louis county police, outfitted with riot gear and heavy armaments, have been the most visible force in the clashes with demonstrators. That effort has been marked by the use of tear gas and stun grenades to keep protesters at bay.
Sixteen people were arrested and two police officers were injured during the latest round of unrest. One of the officers suffered an ankle injury after being hit by a brick. The other officer's injury is unclear, according to KSDK.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who has been posting Vine videos and tweeting about the protests, was released Thursday morning after overnight detention for unlawful assembly.
The evening clashes were marked by the whir of police helicopters and the bang of flash grenades, along with the smell of tear gas that hung in the air for hours.
"The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans," Nixon, a Democrat, said in a statement. "While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern."
As the unrest gripped the community, Ferguson schools pushed back the first day of classes from Thursday to Monday.
Throughout the city Wednesday, police — who had asked demonstrators to hold their protest only during daylight hours — erected barricades, blocking most main roads.
Protesters, angry over the shooting last Saturday of 18-year-old Michael Brown, have demanded that police release the name of the officer involved.
After initially promising to make the name public, police backed off earlier in the week because of what they said were threats from social media.
In the latest twist in the saga, the online hacking group Anonymous on Thursday published on Twitter what they said was the name of the officer. Reporters who followed up on the tip said the tip was false. Later, the Anonymous account on Twitter was suspended.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson tried on Wednesday to address racial disparity in the police department in this St. Louis suburb where two-thirds of the population of 20,000 are African American and account for nine out of 10 stops by police. The 53-member police force includes three African Americans.
"Race relations is a top priority right now," Jackson said. "I've been trying to increase the diversity of the department since I got here."
As with previous nights, the latest clashes were marked by the whir of police helicopters, the bang of stun grenades and the smell of tear gas that seemed to hang in the air for hours.
Police yelled "Hold the line" and "Stop your vehicle." As three vehicles approached a QuikTrip store that was burned on Sunday night, officers in bulletproof vests drew and pointed rifles at the cars.
The sound of apparent gunshots was heard nearby and officers began to pull back from protesters who approached them with their hands raised, mimicking what witnesses said Michael Brown was doing when he was fatally shot in the head and chest.
Some in the crowd tossed gasoline bombs and other objects at police, the Associated Press reported.
Among those detained were two national reporters who were at a McDonald's restaurant where members of the media were charging cellphones and writing.
Reporters Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post said on Twitter that officers told them to stop recording the unrest, then took them into custody.
Contributing: Associated Press
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