After Nights Of Calm, Three Scenes Of Life Around West Florissant Ave.
Barbecue in the air
It’s early and Herc Harris has fired up a big grill in the parking lot of Red’s BBQ.
"Good food, you know, helps bring people together,” he said.
The power of barbecue?
“Of course, of course,” he replied.
When looting broke out after a peaceful protest 12 days ago Red’s BBQ was hit pretty hard. The second time it was broken into by people seeking shelter from a hail of tear gas and smoke canisters.
Like several of the businesses on this roughly three- block stretch of West Florissant, plywood covers the windows of Red’s BBQ. Harris estimates they might have lost about $15,000 in sales, a big hit for a small business. At the same time, he’s philosophical about the property damage. Harris certainly doesn’t condone violence or looting. But as an African American, Harris said he understands the frustrations that that brought so many protestors to Ferguson.
“Because it seems like every time you turn around the system always failed them,” Harris said.
When things started to calm down, Harris thought to himself: Even though the restaurant is closed why not just fire up a grill in the parking lot? By noon Red’s is open for business and a line starts to form.
Reporters from around the globe begin to show up, the remnants of a dwindling international press corps that parachuted in when standoffs between police and protesters were nightly occurrences.
They ask a few questions, grab some footage of him working and then order big plates of barbecue. Members of a television crew from France are big fans.
“Hey, good to see you again Herc,” said a producer walking by.
“How was the food?” Harris asks.
“Fantastic,” they tell him.
Did Harris ever think he’d have journalists from around the world tasting his barbecue?
He laughed and said “no.”
Harris said they have deep ties in this neighborhood. It will take some time to rebuild, but Red’s BBQ isn’t going anywhere.
On Northwinds Estates Drive, cicadas are humming on a steamy Missouri afternoon.
This is the road you take to get to Oakmont Townhomes, which are a little more than a football field away from the burnt out QuikTrip that’s become a landmark during protests in Ferguson. Many residents work low-wage jobs or are unemployed.
There is no outlet.
Police have been using concrete barriers to block off the street in an effort to control large crowds of protesters. Often, residents say the tactic makes them feel trapped. Linda James sat alone in her apartment.
“We’re over here in this war zone, and it just seems like no one cares, ‘Oh that’s your all’s problem,’” James said.
On the nights when protesters clashed with police, tear gas seeped under her door. She worried about the bullets flying around, both rubber and real.
She’s on disability and said she has a string of health problems, including anemia and high blood pressure. James isn’t sleeping much these days.
Sure, it’s been quiet for a few nights, but she wonders if it will last.
“We have no idea when this is going to be over, I don’t think anyone does,” James said.
‘We’ve made real relationships.’
Day after day, a whole range of social service providers, nonprofits and church groups have grouped together in the Canfield Green Apartment Complex. This is where Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
Near a small memorial for Brown, media from every corner of the globe are constantly present, and people spontaneously hold hands and pray.
Miranda Jones is a manager for Better Family Life, a nonprofit that focuses on a range of things such as health care and affordable housing.
“The stores that they use are now either destroyed or closing up early, so, that’s why we’re here,” Jones said.
Jones said children in the complex often have a hard time sleeping. Some have started wetting the bed again. And it may take time for the toll on residents' mental health to surface.
“I have some staff who can’t come out right now,” Jones said. “Just being out here and seeing all of this, they can’t sleep.”
Better Family Life has set up a tent at Red’s BBQ. In Oakmont Townhomes, where Linda James was alone and anxious in her apartment, they opened up a counseling center in a vacant unit a couple doors down.
Jones says the idea is to build relationships they can use to help people long after the international media pull up stakes and the crowds leave.
“I have so many cell phone numbers, and I’m getting a lot of calls,” Jones said. “So, we’ve made real, real relationships.”
And while she welcomes the calm, Jones said the end game isn’t going back to the way things used to be. She said it’s time to deal with long-simmering frustrations in the African-American community that boiled over in the past two weeks and focused the eyes of the world on a few blocks in Ferguson.