Ferguson, one year later: Checking in with the family that opened their door
The first time I met the Moore family, it was in the middle of the night.
On August 17, 2014, protests in Ferguson took a violent turn. After reports of a shooting, police forced demonstrators to disperse with tear gas and rubber bullets. In her suburban home just a few blocks away, Irma Moore and her five children were huddled together on the couch, watching the events on television.
“I just want it all to end. This is day nine of being up all night with someone on watch,” Moore told me then, after she let my colleague and me come inside to wait out the unrest.
We chatted for a while about their neighborhood, the way tear gas would seep in through the air conditioner, and her son’s experience of being harassed by the Ferguson police. St. Louis Public Radio aired a story about their family two days later.
I went back to visit the Moores on a quiet Sunday afternoon and sat with her on the same couch I had a year before. It felt surreal that a full year had passed and Moore said she was frustrated that not much had changed.
“I think the toughest part about it is that it’s still a reality. Especially for us as a community,” Moore said. “All these things are still taking place, so where do we go from here?”
Moore said two of her younger daughters, ages 6 and 4, are still coping with the trauma of the past year. The girls have a hard time sleeping in their own beds and get nervous when they hear helicopters outside. Moore bought a bar to keep across the door, which seemed to help. But there are still lingering memories of the time last year when she tried to call the police on the night a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on charges relating to Michael Brown’s death.
“We called because the auto place back there was on fire, and someone kept coming up the street to light this gas station,” Moore said. “He said if you fear for your safety you can leave, but if everyone is running for their lives and everything is on fire, where do you go?”
St. Louis County Police said they could not comment on the specific situation, but that their policy is never to deny a call for service. A preliminary search in their dispatch logs did not turn up a record of the call.
Moore’s oldest daughter, 17-year-old Jasmine Stewart, remembers the night vividly.
“I woke up to explosions after explosions of the cars exploding,” Stewart said. “We all went to the basement, and my dad and my brother stayed upstairs.”
As with many residents, the Moore’s memories of the roughest nights rise to the surface during our conversation. But more profound, are their stories of resilience in the face of fear, and hopes that their community can become an example of a way forward.
“We had contemplated moving for a while. [We] circled around that and we decided we wouldn’t allow them to push us out of our neighborhood,” Moore said. “Where else can you go when you know every neighbor on the street?”
For the younger siblings, this summer has been a rush of karate lessons and trips to the pool. Last August, Moore’s 11-year-old daughter BreaDora said she couldn’t go to soccer practice because of the unrest. But, as it turned out, she won a regional championship with her team.
This past February, the Moores welcomed a baby girl: Elizabeth.
Irma Moore still works in St. Louis as an assistant principal, but her eyes light up when she talks about making plans to open up a preschool in Dellwood. She’s already started a crowdfunding site, and hopes to raise $50,000. She says the school will offer scholarships to teen mothers, because she had her oldest daughter when she was still in high school.
Last year, Moore told me about a time her teenage son, Marcus, was harassed by the Ferguson police while skateboarding near an abandoned lot. In the past year, he earned his driver’s license, and Moore said she still gets worried when he goes out late at night.
Marcus wasn’t home the day I visited, so I reached him on his cell phone afterwards. He said that some scenes from last year felt apocalyptic.
“I thought it was over! I thought it was going to be like Jamestown Mall, that it was going to be abandoned,” Marcus said. “We’re just building our community again, and I love that.”
Marcus said Ferguson has come together this year in ways he never would have expected. Businesses have reopened, and residents have formed new friendships. In the winter, he and his friends helped lead a walkout of a hundred high school students, who marched to the Ferguson Police Station. All around him, he said he sees anger redirected into something good.
“We are not what the media portrays us as. We are not savages, we are not all evil people. We’re not thieves, we’re not criminals. We are people. Just like anybody else in the world. We have families. We love each other. We’re people,” Marcus said.
Bouscaren covers health and science for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter: @durrieB.