Much of the St. Louis area is on edge as it waits for the grand jury decision in the case of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. Listen into conversations and it won't be long until someone speculates about what will happen.
Local schools, particularly those in north St. Louis County, have been preparing for weeks for a decision concerning the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Business owners and residents are also getting ready for any problems while hoping nothing bad happens.
Lori Fowler of south city (no relation to the reporter) went to the store this week to stock up on an usual method of defense. “I bought three cans of wasp-and-hornet spray,” Fowler said.
She heard wasp spray shoots farther than pepper spray. The label said it goes 27 feet. But when Fowler did a test, it only shot about half that far. Still, she’s keeping one by her bed, another by the front door and one in her car, just in case.
“If I ended up in a bad situation, and I needed to use it, I would,” Fowler said.
But Fowler is optimistic the reaction to the Wilson decision won’t be as bad as some fear.
“I hope the buildup and the hype and the gossip turns out to be like the pope visit or highway-40 shutdown or Y2K, and that we don’t see the sort of widespread violence that’s being predicted,” Fowler said.
Business owner will ‘turn on the lights’
Artist Cbabi Bayoc co-owns SweetArt Bakery in the Shaw neighborhood, where Vonderrit Myers was shot and killed by an off-duty officer Oct. 8.
That area could be the site of reaction to Wilson’s grand jury verdict, and Bayoc has asked his landlord for some plywood. But he won’t board up the place in anticipation of damage. “Only if a window gets broken,” he said.
The news could come could “any day now” is what Bayoc’s hearing from news reports. “But nobody really knows,” he said. Whenever it does, he knows just what he’ll do.
“I’m going to come over to the shop and turn the lights on so folks can hang out,” Bayoc said. “A friend of mine in another city who’s been through several riots said the best thing to do is stay open because it’s the closed, dark buildings that always seem to get hit.”
Scott Tjaden also lives in the Shaw area, at the corner of Shaw Boulevard and Grand Avenue. Tjaden had a birds-eye view of demonstrators marching in protest to the Myers shooting. For several nights in a row, he shot video from his sixth-floor window.
“What I didn’t like was that I was trapped in my apartment. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store,” Tjaden said.
Friends who live in St. Louis County told Tjaden he could temporarily move in with them after the decision. Tjaden may take them up on the offer, if only to get some rest.
“It’s really the noise level, to be able to sleep and to function and go to work the next day,” Tjaden said.
Tjaden is far from panicked. He believes the possibility of danger is slight, but that it does exist.
“During the protests, people did have guns and they were shooting into the air, and that could go into a window,” Tjaden said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be worried about that.”
Watchful, not anxious
Jodi Miller of Creve Coeur has tickets to this Sunday’s Rams game at the Edward Jones Dome. If a grand jury decision comes before gametime, she’ll probably stay home. In the event that there’s trouble, “I would prefer not to be downtown,” Miller said.
Still, Miller’s not anxious or worried, no matter what happens. As a regular Rams fan, she’s already experienced demonstrators at the arena.
“We were at game in October and there were Ferguson protesters sitting right behind us. The cops came and hustled them out but it wasn’t like it was violent,” Miller said. “They were more of a nuisance than anything.”
Judy Tornatore of South County is not at all concerned about any sort of problems in St. Louis. But she knows a lot of people are. An older friend is talking about arming herself.
“When you’ve got a 77-year-old grandma going out to buy a gun, that’s just hysteria,” Tornatore said.
Tornatore is hopeful any pushback from the Wilson decision won’t escalate to the level of the response to Michael Brown’s death.
“I hope the reaction of everybody, including the police and the authorities, will be better this time than it was then,” Tornatore said.
Schools gearing up
Late last month, a number of superintendents asked St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch not to announce the decision while students are in school.
Some specifically requested the news come after 5 p.m., preferably on a Sunday. Hazelwood officials said they were told by McCulloch to expect three hours’ notice during the week, 24 hours on a weekend.
University administrators, including those at Washington University, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and St. Louis Community College, also said they have plans in place and alerts ready to go out by phone, text and email.
Dan Kimack, spokesman for St. Louis Community College, said the school does not anticipate having to close any of its campuses, even Florissant Valley, which is the closest to Ferguson.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Dale Singer contributed to this story.
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