CHANGES THE WORD SEIZED TO TOOK - Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol hugs Angela Whitman, of Berkeley, Mo., on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The Missouri Highway Patrol took control of the St. L
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) -- County police in riot gear and armored tanks gave way to state troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of protesters as the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teen was shot by a city police officer overwhelmingly avoided violence Thursday after nearly a week of unrest and mounting public tension.<br />
The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.<br />
"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."<br />
The more tolerant response came as President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time about Saturday's fatal shooting - and the subsequent violence that shocked the nation and threatened to tear apart Ferguson, a town of 21,000 that is nearly 70 percent black and patrolled by a nearly all-white police force.<br />
Obama said there was "no excuse" for violence either against the police or by officers against peaceful protesters.<br />
Nixon's promise to ease the deep racial tensions was swiftly put to the test as demonstrators gathered again Thursday evening in the neighborhood where looters had smashed and burned businesses on Sunday and where police had repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.<br />
But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell -the point at which previous protests have grown tense - no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.<br />
"You can feel it. You can see it," protester Cleo Willis said of the change. "Now it's up to us to ride that feeling."
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
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