A group of students stood and held up their hands in protest of the Ferguson shooting during a school assembly, while Gov. Jay Nixon was speaking.
Right as Nixon started his speech, congratulating Lincoln College Preparatory Academy’s National Blue Ribbon Award, the small group of students, sitting in the back two rows of the auditorium, stood up and held up their arms, as if to surrender.
They continued to stand for about 30 seconds before a school official asked them to leave. The students didn’t make any noise; they didn’t say anything and left the auditorium peacefully.
“When young people get engaged and interested, it's good for the system,” Nixon said.
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Nixon told reporters after his speech that young people have really connected with the issues coming out of Ferguson, and they are the driving force behind calls for change.
“Folks doing that in the assembly, I don't know if that meets the rules here, I'm not the principal here,” Nixon said. “But that energy of those young folks, that's what's pushing everyone else to get some changes and to make progress.”
And progress, the governor said, is the bigger focus.
He reiterated his plan to keep people safe in Ferguson if protests were to break out after the grand jury releases its decision on Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, in August.
“We want to make sure that people who want to speak, want to say things and want to march and protest, have the right to do so in a protective way,” Nixon said.
He defended his decision to declare a state of emergency ahead of any potential protests, citing past declarations for ice and snow storms.
The governor said National Guard units are mobilizing, but they will serve a supportive role only during any protests that may happen. He said he is counting on local law enforcement to take the primary role of directly interacting with protestors.
“We're trying to keep significant authority in those cops out there that have been trained,” he said. “We've had 5,000 hours of training on constitutional rights and other things over the last 100 days for folks.”
Nixon said his primary role is to make sure the two pillars of speech and safety are enforced during the time after the Grand Jury’s decision is made.
“I will be involved in civilian responsibilities, make sure there are resources there, make sure we're responding accordingly and to make sure we're trying to keep folks calm and the provide them an avenue to speak.”
But, Nixon pointed out, the work will not be finished once the protests come to an end. As illustrated by the students who stood during his speech Thursday, there are bigger issues to address.
“The thing that is the most important thing is how this is used, how can we take this legitimate, appropriate, sincere energy and turn it into tangible, solid progress on a group of issues that have been extremely difficult to even talk about,” Nixon said.
The students who protested were disciplined but not suspended, according to the district.