The Accountability committee, a joint bipartisan group doing the investigation is made up of seven senators and seven House members. Established in 2004, this committee was created to study inefficiencies, fraud, and misconduct in state government. The committee’s purpose at this time, though, is to try and get answers as to why the Missouri National Guard was not used or was told to “stand down” on that fateful November night.
Following the tragic and unfortunate death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, it was determined that a grand jury should be seated and look into the allegations of wrongful death. After several months of meetings and hearing testimony from witnesses, word was released that the jury was finally close to making a decision. Prior to its release, Missouri’s Governor Nixon declared a state of emergency, calling out 700 National Guardsmen and sending them to the St Louis – Ferguson region. His move was in anticipation of potential violence that would result from the jury’s verdict and their refusal to indict Officer Wilson. With the news, looting, rioting, and arson ensued.
Following the events of the night of November 24, a question being asked now is why was the decision made not to use the guardsmen present to support and protect firemen who were battling blazes in Ferguson and were being fired upon. The committee’s determination is that the basic questions of accountability for that night’s events need to be answered by the Nixon Administration. The committee also wants to know why, after calling out the National Guard the previous week to keep down potential violence they were not used the night of the 24th, and was there an order given for them to
On Wednesday before the committee met for the first time, Governor Nixon held a news conference in which he talked about the Ferguson incident. In the conference he brought up the tragic events of the Kent State shooting that happened 45 years ago, when four Kent State students were shot by Ohio National Guardsmen during an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1970. He stated that the end result of November 24, 2015 was better than the Kent State situation because no one was killed.
In defending his response to the Ferguson unrest, Nixon said that it was “unfortunately there was looting and some property damage, but it is important that we put lives before buildings.” The Governor restated that the guardsmen were not to be on the front line facing those who were looting and burning but to support local law enforcement as they dealt with the unrest.
During the Government Accountability committee hearing, testimony was taken from four witnesses. Perhaps the most prominent witness was Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who testified that he tried to contact Governor Nixon and his office all evening but received no response. Consequently, he turned to others, including U.S. Senator Clair McCaskill, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, and State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, who all answered their phones. The mayor wanted these individuals to help him get in touch with the governor. But, again, all efforts failed.
Governor Nixon said his administration will cooperate with the legislators conducting the hearings. The committee has requested various documents from the Governor’s Office and will hold additional hearings. It is important to note that this committee has the power to subpoena witnesses, including the Governor, if necessary.
There is a great deal of interest in finding out exactly what did happen on that November evening and why. As one of the committee members stated, “We have more questions than answers.” These hearings will continue.