The air was already thick with tension as people, “protesters”, began gathering outside Ferguson Police Department Monday night. It was obvious many of the men and women were present to make their voices heard. As a journalist, I was there to capture that moment in time.
I arrived on scene eager and ready to work. However, as the two photographers and security team with whom we traveled parked across from the Police Department on S. Florissant, there was an eerie feeling this moment in time would turn into mayhem. And it did.
What started as an arguably peaceful gathering, quickly transitioned into a series of chaotic attacks, looting, fires, clashes and riots in and around the City of Ferguson.
Riots! Patrol cars flipped and set on fire! Young people breaking into shops to steal! Officers attacked with bricks, stones, and D-batteries! Small businesses torched! This was the reality happening before our eyes after the Grand Jury’s decision into the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson shooing case was announced. This was the picture of Ferguson the residents didn’t want to expect that night.
The images were horrific and shocking. Safety became my crew’s priority.
Hours before the Grand Jury decision was announced, we arrived outside the Ferguson Police headquarters to find barricades blocking off the driveway and entrance. Members of a small crowd gathered on the opposite side of the street were carrying signs in support of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation in Ferguson on August 9th. The crowd grew from about 60 people to more than 1,000 protesters within a t hour time frame.
As the crowd of protesters were anxiously awaiting the Grand Jury’s announcement, several of the people began chanting to gain support from cars passing by. Our security team spoke with an officer who alerted them to a group of men wearing military tactical gear. Security was concerned those individuals were present with criminal motives in mind, and perhaps they were. Those men in their tactical gear and face masks rushed toward the police barricade, pushed the fencing and broke through the barrier before running off. That caused the crowd to get very excited. A large group of officer quickly came out and formed a human barricade, as other police put the fencing back in place.
Throughout the evening the crowd chanted they would shut down the streets, among other fired up calls. The protesters successfully did that as they waited to hear Wilson’s future.
Instinct let us know, as the night grew on, peaceful protest was going to escalate into chaos in the street. Many of those gathered concealed their identities by wearing a type of mask made popular in the film ‘V for Vendetta’. Some others had bandannas covering their faces.
Moments before the Grand Jury’s decision was announced, we were given orders to bail from the area as a safety precaution. By this time, we’d already received word an assault rifle was spotted in the crowd, and my security detail witnessed a couple of people with guns.
While driving to the Joint Command Center, we heard the County Prosecutor announce the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson for his role in killing Brown. That set some of the protesters off! Emotions were high across Ferguson and St. Louis.
We watched members of the crowd outside the Ferguson Police Department taking their so-called anger to the streets. Some people smashed windows on cars and businesses. As people raced from the area, neighborhoods across Ferguson were becoming targets for vandalism and destruction.
Streets were covered in an orange haze as looters torched stores across W. Florissant. This was a sad reality, very sad.
I received a call from Ferguson resident Kaye Mershon just before midnight. Mershon is the owner of Clip Appeal Barbershop and Beauty Salon. She was in tears telling me looters smashed her windows and tried burning down her shop. Mershon said she and her staff were trying to board up the windows to prevent any further damage. Meantime, her shop was just a few yards away from a beauty supply store that was being gutted by fire. My heart was hurting for Mershon and her staff. My heart was aching for her team and all of Ferguson.
I first met the Clip Appeal crew back in August, when I was first asked to cover the riots in Ferguson after Brown’s death. Mershon and her staff had a front row seat into major protests happening outside of their door. The workers were among the first who told me what the world was watching wasn’t representative of the true Ferguson. Mershon and her staff said they represented those in Ferguson who cared about the community and worked hard to provide a service for the neighbors. Clip Appeal was a gathering place for a cross-section of community members.
It’s unfortunate some selfish individuals fail to see the value in business like Clip Appeal, and the hard work Mershon and others put into making their dreams significant in Ferguson. Dreams some seemingly selfish criminals tried to destroy in one night.
More than two dozen businesses were burned overnight. All of those businesses, most of the minority owned, gutted by fire. What the world witnessed overnight was savage, criminal, and seriously sad.
Innocent people who had absolutely nothing to do with the Wilson/Brown controversy are now victimized.
Police say 61 people were arrested overnight. Fifty of those individuals were from the St. Louis area.
The past Mayor of Ferguson, Brian Fletcher, described it as devastating to see the city go up in flames overnight. He criticized the Missouri Governor for failing the City of Ferguson. Fletcher, among other residents, are questioning the government’s plan leading up to the Grand Jury announcement. They are wondering why, as previously indicated, the National Guard members were not in place to protect some of the businesses.
Perhaps when the sun comes up, and the dust settles, those vandals and rioters will get a chance to see some of their destruction and realize how much they set their community back. Destroying people’s dreams, and ruining folks’ sense of security…all for some sick and twisted sense of selfish entitlement.
During my time in Ferguson, I’m going to stay committed to telling stories from the heart of the residents in that City. I recognize their hearts are heavier than before now. It’s going to take a community of people to help them heal.