Letter from Ferguson: Adjusting to the new normal

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FERGUSON — In the daylight, West Florissant Avenue sat like a long scar along the city’s eastern edge.

Mishell Jackson said when she woke up Tuesday, she felt like she was “in the hood.”


“You shouldn’t wake up hearing helicopters,” said Jackson, a 27-year-old Ferguson resident. “This whole thing has made me not trust the people that are supposed to protect us. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. I trust the person I don’t know on the street before I trust the police.”

Smoke again filled the air the night after a St. Louis county grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Protesters attempted to overturn a police car, which they also set ablaze in front of Ferguson City Hall.


For a few hours ahead of the incident, a peaceful assembly gathered for hours along South Florissant Avenue — site of two police car burnings and looting the night before. The protests across from the Ferguson Police Department were overseen by National Guardsmen, whose presence was more than tripled in the city after Monday’s unrest.

Watch: Ferguson in flames after grand-jury decision


The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of Jamaica Plain, Mass., who has spent time training activists in Ferguson, called the increased police presence “continued intimidation.”

“This is normal,” Sekou said. “The National Guard is protecting the police. This is abuse of a beleaguered community.”


For much of Tuesday, people went quietly about their business under a crisp, clear, sunny sky, whether shopping or stopping to take pictures of the remains of last night’s unrest.

Looted shop owners were doing their best to clear broken glass from parking lots, and to replace the plywood they’d put up to protect their property. While she said she sympathized with business owners, Jackson it was hard for her to feel sorry about the violence on the streets of Ferguson on Monday night.


“Some people don’t know how to deal with their anger, so they take it out by doing what they’re doing,” she said. “Not everybody is just doing it to get a pair of shoes. Some are doing it out of passion because they’re hurt. They think, ‘If you mess with us this way, we’ll mess with y’all that way.’”

The grand jury’s decision Monday night have sparked peaceful protests around the country, and a renewed violence on the streets of Ferguson. Also lingering: The evening’s raw emotions and a sustained sense of purpose.


Brown’s parents were scheduled to speak at a press conference Tuesday morning. His mother, Lesley McSpadden, did not appear, and his father, Michael Brown Sr., stood at the podium but did not address the media, though he later gave taped interviews.

“He doesn’t want to misspeak because of such emotions that are going through him that could later be held against him,” family attorney Benjamin Crump said in explaining Brown Sr.’s silence.


Crump encouraged others to join the family in refocusing their pain and anger into the change many of them have been calling for since Brown’s death on Aug. 9. The Brown family legal team said his parents will work to pass national legislation in their son’s name that would require police officers to wear body cameras.

“We can hold people accountable when police officers have interactions with citizens,” Crump said. “Join us in demanding change. You all have to change this system.”


Authorities strongly condemned Monday night’s violence, and the police presence increased throughout the day in major protest areas around Ferguson. Gov. Jay Nixon announced he would increase the number of National Guardsmen in the city on Tuesday from 700 to 2,200.

“I am deeply saddened for the people of Ferguson who woke up this morning to see parts of their community in ruins,” Nixon said during a press conference.  “No one should have to live like this. No one deserves this. We must do better and we will.”


Peacekeeper Charles Mayo, who has helped coordinate protesters in Ferguson, said Tuesday that officials have put “a premium on pets and property, not people.”

“A window, a door, can be replaced,” Mayo said. “You can never give a kid his life back.”


“All of this is what they’re trying to protect,” he continued, pointing to the storefronts along South Florissant’s Main Street corridor. “This is their baby.”

Officials said at least a dozen buildings were burned on Monday and more than 80 people were arrested for crimes ranging from unlawful assembly to burglary to possession of a firearm. Many of the looted businesses were along West Florissant Avenue, which some complained lacked a visible police presence during the violence.


The situation could not have been more opposite on Tuesday, when the main occupants of the street were National Guardsmen, who blocked off the avenue at both ends.

Precious McCollum wasn’t sure she’d be out with protesters on Tuesday after the events of the night before. The 17-year-old high school senior eventually made her way to the scene with friends.


“I was in the house,” McCollum said when asked how she spent the day after the grand jury’s decision.

“I was not coming out," she said, but later changed her mind, saying: "I didn’t think that it was going to be that bad today because of all the stuff they did yesterday.”

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