National Guard troops walk through a staging area located at a shopping center parking lot in Ferguson, Missouri August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen nearly two weeks ago.
Police, who were widely criticized for using heavy-handed tactics to quell earlier protests over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, made only isolated arrests as local clergy and civic leaders worked to keep protests orderly.
In an apparent sign of easing tensions, Captain Ron Johnson, a black State Highway Patrol officer placed in command last week after the criticism of the local police, said a drawdown of National Guard troops would begin on Friday.
Governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard deployment to help quell the looting and vandalism that have accompanied the nightly protest rallies over Brown's death on Aug. 9, but the troops have largely kept a low profile.
Clergy and civic leaders again urged protesters to remain peaceful and to return to their homes after dark.
Johnson used props from local children to suggest a measure of peace had returned to the St. Louis-area community after the nightly clashes between protesters and riot gear-clad police that often ended in volleys of tear gas and dozens of arrests.
"Isn't it a better sight ... when we can see a table with a coloring book, a box of crayons and a sock puppet, instead of weapons and Molotov cocktails?" Johnson told reporters.
"This is truly the community of Ferguson. We are headed toward a sense of peace for our community," he said.
An area church said it would hold a "praise and worship" service on Friday evening for Brown, whose funeral is slated for next Monday. A national group of Baptist ministers plans a march on Tuesday morning through the neighborhood where Brown had been walking when he was shot and killed.
The turmoil has cast the community of 21,000 people into the international spotlight as an emblem of often-troubled race relations in the United States.
Although Ferguson is predominantly African American, its political leadership, police department and public school administration are dominated by whites. Civil rights activists say Brown's death was the culmination of years of police unfairly targeting blacks.
Brown's parents and supporters have been calling for the immediate arrest of Darren Wilson, 28, the police officer who shot their son. Wilson has been placed on leave and has gone into seclusion.
A local grand jury met on Wednesday to begin hearing evidence in the case, a process St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said could last into mid-October.
Brown's family and protesters are demanding that the probe be turned over to a special prosecutor, saying McCulloch has a record of discriminatory handling of cases involving police accused of misconduct against blacks.
McCulloch, whose father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black man, has promised a fair and impartial investigation.
State Senator Jamilah Nasheed arrived at McCulloch's office on Thursday with petitions demanding his removal from the case.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson on Wednesday to meet Brown's parents and other residents, and to review the status of a federal civil rights investigation he has ordered into Brown's slaying.
Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, who viewed her son's body for the first time on Wednesday at a local morgue shortly before meeting Holder, said his assurances helped restore her faith that justice could be done.
"Just hearing the words come directly from his mouth, face-to-face, made me feel like, one day, I will," she told CNN on Thursday. "And I'm not saying today, or yesterday, but one day, they will regain my trust."