Dellwood Mayor 'Demanding Answers' From Nixon After 13 Businesses Burned In Riots
Echoing the mayor of neighboring city Ferguson, the mayor of Dellwood is adding his voice to the criticism of Gov. Jay Nixon and demanding answers in the aftermath of Monday's riots.
Mayor Reggie Jones said Dellwood was promised its business district would be protected by National Guard troopers, but he said "they failed to arrive."
While Ferguson has "gotten more attention," Jones said, his city saw the most damage and he wants to make sure his city also gets the resources it needs to recover.
Jones said he had assured local business owners at a meeting last week that all would be fine.
"That's why I'm so frustrated," he told St. Louis Public Radio after a press conference Friday. "We made a promise to them that they would be protected and as you see, they were not."
Nixon had called up the National Guard to assist local police in providing security, in anticipation of possible unrest following the announcement of the grand jury decision in the Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson case.
Jones said he hasn't spoken to Nixon, but said he did call the governor's office Monday night to request more National Guard troops for his city once violent protests broke out. The extra Guard troopers helped keep the situation calmer on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Jones said, but he still holds the governor responsible for Monday night's destruction.
In addition to five looted stores, 13 Dellwood businesses - about 10 percent of the city's business corridor - were set on fire. That included the women's clothing store Fashions R Boutique. The burned out shell of the building was marked with a "BA," which St. Louis County Police say means bomb and arson investigators had been through.
The boutique's owner Juanita Morris said she could never have imagined the situation would get so bad. She said she didn't know her business, which has been located in Dellwood for 10 years, was in flames until she received a phone call from a friend. Still, she thought the fire department would save her store.
Police said firefighters were prevented from putting out the fires along West Florissant because of heavy gunfire. Morris, like the mayor, said she doesn't blame St. Louis County police or the fire department for not being able to save her store.
"I understand why they didn't come, because someone was shooting," she said. "I don’t want anyone to lose their life."
But seeing her building burn to the ground on the news and knowing nothing could be salvaged was understandably hard, she said.
"You can't explain that feeling of 28 years of hard work to just go up in two to three hours," she said. "It's a feeling of devastation. You don't really believe what you're seeing."
Still Morris said she will rebuild in Dellwood because she loves the area and "the people of Ferguson and Dellwood have supported me." In the meantime, she said she has plans to open up a temporary shop in a nearby vacant space.
"I just believe, I have faith in God that this will pass, too," she said. "Something good will come from this."
But Morris and other business owners will need funding to help rebuild, Jones said. During Friday's press conference, he said he is going to cut red tape and will be "begging for money" from everyone from state officials to the federal government.
"We don’t want forgivable loans, we want some funds to speed up the process because these guys are ready to come back," Jones said. "They love being in this community. They’ve all said they want to come back and rebuild, so we just want to get them back on track."
Other local leaders added weighed in on Dellwood's next steps. Like Jones, Ferguson Township Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes also said she had not heard from the governor. Bynes said, who said she personally has shopped at Morris' boutique, called the local businesses "the bedrock of the community" that needs support.
State Sen. Gina Walsh, who represents North St. Louis County, said the area has much to offer and she was saddened to see the destruction of the business corridor, which she said represented residents' livelihoods.
"We have strong business owners; they are resilient; they will come back," she said.
While the issues underscored by Brown's death and ensuing violence have festered for hundreds of years, Walsh said the community needs to address them and rebuild. In that vein, Urban League president Mike McMillan said his organization has launched a new program called "Save Our Sons," to provide resources for young black men.
Meanwhile, Nixon announced on Friday that the state would extend a Small Business Relief Program to offer $625,000 in no-interest loans to the affected businesses. Missouri previously made about $250,000 available through the program after the first wave of protests in August in response to Michael Brown's killing. Other loans are available through the federal Small Business Administration.