Editor’s Note: What follows is a first hand report from the streets of Ferguson from my son, Thomas, who went there on the night that the Grand Jury decision was announced. Pictures to follow.
On November 24th, 2014 shortly before 8PM CST I was out for dinner at our local Buffalo Wild Wings with my brother and friends.
One of them noted “all of these TVs and only one of them is showing the news.” It was true, out of at least 15 screens mounted on the wall it appeared all anyone cared about was Monday Night Football and other various sportscasts.
A few minutes after eight an Anonymous Twitter account tweeted that there would be no indictment in the Darren Wilson case. I felt uneasy. I wasn’t exactly surprised by the decision, but I had hoped for the best – and this wasn’t it.
My friend Luke said “I think we should go to Ferguson to take pictures of whatever happens tonight.”
We headed home still contemplating. I turned on a St. Louis County police scanner (via a Ustream channel link on my timeline) and saw the number of channel viewers increase nearly 1000 people per minute from 7000 to almost 10,000.
8:33 – First report of shots fired.
9:02 – Police car being destroyed.
9:03 – Shots fired at the police department.
We got in the car and headed to Ferguson, about 130 miles away. I turned on my 5-0 Radio app so we could continue listening in the car.
9:26 – Reports of a journalist hit in the head with a brick.
9:26 – Shots fired in front of the fire department.
It took about two hours to get to Ferguson, but the anxiety from not knowing what we would encounter was enough to make it seem much longer. When we got off the Interstate, right away we saw a group of 4 or 5 police cars, lights on, flying past us.
Upon our arrival we first noticed the local businesses that had been damaged – the broken windows and evidence of looting.
As we drove another block, I noticed the “Seasons Greetings” banner displayed over the street.
“Holy Shit!” We had seen the banner in online videos earlier that evening, but had no idea that’s where we would end up until we got there. We were a little awestruck.
We pulled into the now infamous Boost Mobile parking lot. There were newscasters, protestors, and cars full of people. It was hard to draw the line between activists and spectators. It was even harder to spot the other individuals, present only to take advantage of the situation.
However, it was not especially hard to identify the unmarked police car and officers positioned in the parking lot to spy on everyone.
On the sidewalk, protestors stood in solidarity as they watched the police officers, who were dressed in full riot gear across the street in front of the Ferguson Fire Station. They held shields and batons, and wore helmets with masks.
I watched as multiple officers pulled down their masks. I wasn’t sure if we should expect smoke next, or maybe they just needed to feel the warmth of their breath. It was a cold night, and no one would be leaving soon.
We walked down the street to begin taking pictures. As we were walking more police vehicles had come to establish a roadblock. “No more traffic in,” was their plan. We approached the roadblock because we had to cross in order to move about the area. One officer asked me “Where do you think you’re going? What are you guys doing?”
After that encounter we believed that if we crossed their line, we might not be able to make it back to our vehicle and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take, so we hurriedly headed back to the parking lot across from the fire department.
While we waited to see what the night would come to, we talked to some of the individuals. It appeared that because I was holding a camera, people wanted to tell us how they felt about the matter. Some even asked me what my views were. I knew how I felt, but I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Mike Brown had a right to live, and it was taken from him.”
“I think people should let the world know what happened here.”
Things were relatively calm where we were. We had turned off our police scanners, so we were unaware of most other on-going incidents.
A man and his friend approached Luke and I and asked if I would take a photo of them. I agreed, but then was attacked by this man. He forcibly tried to take the camera. I held on, to it and to him. He stumbled to the ground. I think it was clear he couldn’t take the camera so he began to back away. I was shocked. At least 30 of the many police officers in the area witnessed this occurrence, and they did nothing. They saw us all the same. I felt as if I had entered a foreign country, the presence of police in combat and riot gear was nearly overwhelming.
It was getting late, and we made the decision to leave. Once we got on the road I returned to listening to the police scanner. Cars and buildings had been set on fire, and more would follow.
More than a week after the announcement that there would be no indictment in the case, the barrage of opinions being posted to social media continues. The number of individuals condemning Mike Brown, and the protestors, is bewildering to me.
Of course there is a difference between a protest and a riot. There is a difference between those who protest and those who take advantage of the situation for personal or even political gain.
But my time spent in Ferguson, as short as it was, allowed me to see more than just a glimpse of the chaos that had erupted. It also allowed me to see and meet dozens of peaceful individuals holding signs and raising their voices in a simple plea for justice.