How Can We Move Forward? St. Louisans Speak Out About Ferguson
Emotions continue to run high as people throughout the greater St. Louis area try to process the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed young man.
Peaceful protests that followed the death of Michael Brown, 18, at the hands of a Ferguson police officer on Saturday turned to violence on Sunday. And the chaos continued early Wednesday, when a St. Louis County officer shot and critically injured a man authorities say pointed a gun at officers near a protest site.
Across the region, however, people are pondering it all and trying to look for ways to move forward. What lessons can be learned? How can the greater community heal?
For starters, Erica Hampton of Bellefontaine Neighbors decided to begin by cleaning up some of the destruction left by others. So on Monday morning, she took her children and recruited her friend De De Patterson to see what she could do outside the QuikTrip convenience store that had been looted and burned on Sunday night.
"I want to stand up for justice for Michael Brown, but I don't want to expose my kids to all this trouble," Hampton said Wednesday in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
"I wanted to show them the right way to do things. Be a leader, not a follower."
So Hampton, along with her 10-year-old son, Jaden Patrick, Patterson and Patterson's boyfriend, Reggie Harrison, started working. Before long, a few others joined them.
"Some people were disagreeing with us for doing it," Hampton said. "But a few others just came up and started helping."
Shortly after the volunteer crew began working with their own brooms, someone showed up from the nearby Home Depot with shovels, larger booms and water, Hampton said.
As the cleanup continues and assorted groups and individuals begin looking ahead, St. Louis Public Radio asked, through the Public Insight Network, for people to share their observations. Following are a sample of the comments they submitted. Some have been edited for length or clarity.
Kathryn Banks, Florissant
“The anger, fear and frustration are very real. We need leadership and community members who are willing to engage in conversations that might be uncomfortable and scary to be able to make it back out into the light.
"I don't have children, but I've represented children and youth who have asked me what to do, and I wish I knew what to tell them. I can tell them to find a way to calmly assert their rights, I can give them a know your rights card, but I am being dishonest if I think that any of this will stop an officer who is inclined to cross the line. I am being foolish if I think that this may not result in that child being physically harmed by that officer.
"My experience in Ferguson has been interesting as an attorney who at times represents individuals in conflict with the law in Ferguson, as a past homeowner who has experienced plummeting property values, and as a victim of crime who has had to rely on the Ferguson police for safety.
"I understand the anger that residents have. Many of them had a different experience than I with the police. My fear now is that if the officer isn't charged, fair investigation or not, that what we saw this weekend will be only the tip of the iceberg. I fear that businesses will not want to invest and I fear that elected officials will continue to ignore a vital part of our community. I fear that even in the wake of all of this anger, sadness, and pain there will be no real change.
"Regardless of what happens with the investigation, The conversation should be about how we as a community can use this situation to move forward and create positive change."
Ashley Bernaugh, Florissant
“Stop allowing police to brutalize our communities. Stop with the militarized police showing of force. Have security that reflects the demographics of the neighborhood. Call for sensitivity training and have it actually be meaningful.
“Have better oversight to check for abuses of power, demonstrated in arrest records for the community. Release the name of the officer responsible for the death. Allow people to peacefully assembly without the threat of dogs, weapons, and tear gas from well- armed police. And show some compassion for a community that is mourning."
Jade Harrell, St. Louis
“My 6-year-old son pretended not to hear me when I was calling his name to give me a kiss. He says, ‘I can't hear you, Mommy, I'm dead.’ I say no dying in the Harrell house. He says, ‘but what if I get shot by a policeman and I didn't do anything? Then I could die.’ I was speechless.
“I then had to speak to all four of them ( her children are boys, 6, 8 and 9 years old and a girl, 10) about the world that has anger and sometimes it's directed or misdirected toward them because of the color of their skin. I ran out of answers to the run of 'why' that followed."
Tom Noerper, Affton
"My brother and I are 'white guys' in our 40s in Affton, but we feel great sympathy with the folks in Ferguson. We know that police in the U.S. are largely unaccountable and act with impunity — especially if the victim is black. We are very glad the feds have taken over the investigation."
Noerper told of how, when he was younger, he was cited for drawing graffiti and arrested for traffic violations.
"When I was arrested as a teen for refusing to stop for police, driving without a license, etc., I was treated roughly but not beaten or physically abused. This was 1985. Later, when Rodney King was beaten, I realized I had been lucky."
Carol Schneider, Ferguson
"This community belongs to all of us. It's our home, our neighborhood, we raise our children and grandchildren here. We must come together as civil adults to address these problems that affect all of us.
"Do something that has a positive effect on this so we can change what needs to be changed in OUR community.
"Remember Michael Brown and his family in your prayers."
Ohala Ward, Belleville
“We can learn that acting too hastily on emotions or the actions of others can be costly to life and property. We must develop a (way that) youth ages 18-24 can vocalize their concerns and be taken seriously. Then there must be more organized neighborhood groups through which they can work to make a positive difference in the community. This will also foster neighbor-friendly communities where people look out for one another and are not afraid to report crime. These are old actions that have worked in the past and are still effective today.
"I have no children. But, I have advised children and youth to respect the authority of the police and do what they ask, unless it is immoral. I advised them not to argue, curse, fight with or threaten the police. If they police speak rudely to them, I advise them to say nothing then but report it later when they are home safe."
Sarah Richardson, Webster Groves
"My husband, who is black, has had a variety of experiences with the police, which have differed based on what part of the area he was (or we were) living or working in.
"There seems to be a healthy dialogue happening, despite some of the heated rhetoric on various sides of the conversation. I hope that these discussions can continue, and deepen, as the community attempts to find justice and some sense of hope.
"It is so painful to see this kind of tragedy happen. I hope there can be some constructive way to keep thoughtful interactions going on even after the media attention has dissipated."
Joe Prichard, Festus
"There are reasons why Missouri is ranked as the sixth most racist state in the nation. I believe a subtle, underlying reason is refusal of the media to address racial issues in more than a superficial, basic, we-will-do-what-we-have-to-do sort of way."
Erik Olsen, north St. Louis County
"The NAACP using the term 'slaughtered' did not help, nor has the New Black Panthers and other racist organizations screaming for the I.D. of the police officer involved in the shooting. Getting the Ferguson P.D. more directly involved with community outreach on the east side of that city would be a good start toward improving relations.
"It would also help for the Ferguson police to install the dashboard cameras that they've had for a couple of months. (Use of dashboard cameras and body cameras on officers) would have improved the information of exactly what occurred. St. Louis County police have dash cams and body cameras that give a lot more immediate feedback."
Phillip Wells, Dellwood
“I'm sure everyone feels sorrow for Michael and his family as a result of the death. However, those who were and are creating a riot are not engaged in their activities out of respect for Michael. … What they apparently don't understand is that most of the businesses that were destroyed employed primarily black individuals. I wonder what those who are now out of a job think about the actions of those who had fun by taking advantage of the mob's actions.
"I was surprised and impressed with the comments made by Rev. Al Sharpton.
"The things he said needed to be said by someone of his stature. ”
Marian Linck, Ferguson
"I live in Ferguson and it breaks my heart that the world thinks Ferguson is a racially charged hell hole. It is not. It is a diverse community that has taken pride in its diversity and the ability to work together, because of, and in spite of, our differences."
Help inform our coverage
This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. To see more responses, in addition to those used for this report, please click here. To learn more about the network and how you can become a source, please click here.