The auditorium of McCluer South-Berkeley High School was full but nearly silent as Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson told a story about his own high school football team that never won, but stuck together nonetheless. "Even though we never won, we worked hard to win," Johnson said. "We all have to work together more than ever now to make sure that our community stays whole."
Johnson has visited six schools near Ferguson and St. Louis to relay a similar message in preparation for when a grand jury announces its decision on whether the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in August will be indicted. Johnson plans to hold more school assemblies, where he's practicing what he's preaching by asking for the students to share their thoughts after assuring them, "I’m telling this community and this nation — we can learn from you."
Johnson has learned from the students that he needs to "do better," he told NBC News. Johnson said he failed to realize that there was so much pent-up frustration in the community.
When the grand jury decision is handed down, Johnson said he is hopeful — because of the character he's seen in the students — that Ferguson and St. Louis won't disintegrate into turmoil. Previous protests and riots have helped teach police how to effectively communicate with the public, and the students that he's talked to have expressed that there is a greater level of understanding between cops and citizens on the streets, Johnson said.
"West Florissant has become a classroom for policemen in the last three months," Johnson said. "The police are listening, Johnson said, "and those police that aren’t listening, I think they’re going to find that they either need to change, or they need to look for a new job."
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— Ron Allen and Elisha Fieldstadt