The 13 days and nights that followed were the most trying of Johnson’s life—professionally, emotionally, and spiritually. Officers in his own command called him a traitor. Lifelong friends stopped speaking to him. The media questioned and criticized his every decision. Alone at the center of the firestorm, with only his family and his faith to cling to, Johnson persevered in his belief that the only way to effectively bridge the divide between black and blue is to—literally—walk across it.
In 13 Days in Ferguson, Johnson shares, for the first time, his view of what happened during the thirteen turbulent days he spent stabilizing the city of Ferguson, and the extraordinary impact those two historic weeks had on his faith, his approach to leadership, and on what he perceives to be the most viable solution to the issues of racism and prejudice in America.
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Read an Excerpt
DAY 1 SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, 2014
MICHAEL BROWN'S BODY
Please, God, let me be enough. I just want to be enough. Ron Johnson
THE FIRST CALL COMES IN around one o'clock in the afternoon. I'm in a car with three other African American state troopers, returning from a National Black State Troopers Coalition conference in Milwaukee. My cell phone vibrates, and I take the call. A lieutenant from our office reports that there has been an officer-involved shooting of a young black man in Ferguson and a crowd has begun to gather.
"Ferguson," I say.
A town like so many others.
I basically grew up in Ferguson. Half the kids in Ferguson go to Riverview Gardens High, the same high school I attended. I played football there, ran track, played in the marching band, went to prom, walked in my graduation.
An officer-involved shooting.
I can't wrap my head around this. We're not talking about a depressed, dangerous, potential powder keg like the south side of Chicago or St. Louis City, where I once lived. Ferguson has its share of challenges and problems — poverty, crime — but nothing you could point to that would precipitate an officer-involved shooting.
At least that's what I thought.
"Keep me updated," I tell the lieutenant. I click off my cell and pass along the news to the other officers.
Several hours later, the lieutenant calls again.
"Things have escalated," he says. He explains that more people have flooded the residential street in Ferguson where the shooting took place. He also tells me in a low monotone that the body has not yet been removed from the street, now nearly four hours after the shooting.
"This could turn into something bad," I say.
When the lieutenant informs me that many more officers have reported to the scene, I end the call and tell the other troopers about the crowd escalation and the body still lying in the street.
We all go silent. For a moment, I shut off the thoughts that are spinning in my mind and focus only on the sounds I hear — the rumble of the car on the road, a sigh, an intake of breath, a throat clearing. But a moment later, the images of race riots from fifty years ago come charging unchecked into my mind's eye — buildings burning; black men being beaten and shot, their bodies left on the streets, their heads pressed against curbs, their faces in the gutters. Pictures of hatred. Reminders. Examples. Warnings.
Another time, I tell myself. Another place.
"They still haven't removed the body?" someone asks.
"Four hours," another trooper says. "In the street."
"If that were my child —"
An intake of breath.
A throat clearing.
The rumble of the car on the road.
* * *
At home, six hours later, I watch the news with my wife, Lori. While the local reporters at the scene relay the latest information, behind them and around them the crowds gather and swirl — people's anger, frustration, and outrage simmering, threatening to boil over.
I lower the volume on the television as my phone rings with updates, the news dribbling in, though many details remain vague or unconfirmed.
Outside contractors working for a funeral parlor have finally removed Michael Brown's body.
Reportedly, a robbery was committed.
Michael Brown was apparently unarmed.
The police officer, the shooter — name withheld — is Caucasian. Protesters are mobilizing; the police presence is growing.
My training kicks in, and my mind begins a makeshift check-list. Based on the rules in our officer training manual for crowd control, the goal is to secure the area and make the streets safe. On TV, a newscaster stands in front of a mound of rubble near the site of the shooting, describing what, only a short time ago, had been a growing memorial to Michael Brown — flowers, photos, candles, cards, stuffed animals. According to reports, he says, a police officer allowed a dog on a leash to urinate on the memorial and then another officer drove a police vehicle over the memorial and destroyed it.
I have no words. I look over at my wife as her eyes water with confusion and pain.
Why is this happening?
I turn back to the news.
A place I thought I knew.
Suddenly I don't know where I am.
* * *
Lying in bed, my eyes jacked open, my body rigid, my arms glued to my sides beneath a single white sheet, I hear the central air humming softly like a gathering swarm of insects.
I picture another body, beneath another bunched-up white sheet, lying lifeless and abandoned on the dirty gray pavement of Ferguson, Missouri, in the suffocating heat of an early August day.
Eighteen years old.
His body left unattended on the ground for four and a half hours.
I think about his parents — two people I've never met; two people whose appearances I can only vaguely conjure into my mind; a mother, a father. I don't know them, but as a father myself I know that their hearts have been ravaged, their souls shattered. And I'm certain that one central question knifes through them: How could they — meaning the police, meaning us, meaning me — leave their son lying in the middle of the street for four and a half hours?
By now, they've been given a reason. An explanation. An excuse.
But the question remains.
Crowds — angry, incensed crowds — had gathered near the shooting site, and the people who came to remove the body from the street didn't feel safe. Somebody reported hearing gunshots. The officers at the scene suggested to the people tasked with removing the body that they not leave their vehicle without wearing bulletproof vests. To my knowledge, nobody provided them with bulletproof vests. So they sat in their air-conditioned black sedan, concerned for their own safety, waiting for the police to secure the area so they could do their job.
Any way you try to explain it, Michael Brown's young, black body lay unattended in the street for four and a half hours, beneath that sheet stained with his blood, while the residents of Ferguson gathered to gawk, seethe, anguish, grieve, lash out, scream.
Michael Brown's shooting ignited the fire.
Michael Brown's body burned the city down.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "13 Days in Ferguson"
Copyright © 2018 Ronald S. Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Confrontation 1
Day 1 Michael Brown's Body 7
Day 2 "This is War" 15
Day 3 "These People" 25
Day 4 "Why Am I Different?" 37
Day 5 Waiting For the Storm 61
Day 6 (Daylight) A Different Morning 71
Day 6 (After Dark) "I Need Answers" 97
Day 7 "Save Our Sons" 111
Day 8 "No More Than I Can Bear" 135
Day 9 "I Am You" 167
Day 10 A Bullet Has No Name 189
Day 11 Man, Black Man, Trooper 205
Day 12 "Where Have You Been?" 225
Day 13 "Trouble Doesn't Last Always" 239
Epilogue After Ferguson 255
Discussion Questions 287
About the Author 291