Canfield Drive is a pretty, residential street. Nestled up against a drainage creek on one side, and the Northland Golf Club on the other, the houses up by the main avenue are older, but well kept and trim. The only clutter in the yards are such toys as one would expect in houses that are homes to families with small children. Further down the narrow, winding lane are relatively new apartment complexes. These are handsomely laid out with carefully manicured yards and balconies, ample parking spaces for the tenants, pleasantly shaded by mature trees all along the way. The cars one sees are all in good condition; there are no rusty beaters laying about, but solid, well maintained vehicles.
Depending on whether you walk or drive, the Northland shopping center is only about 8 tenths of a mile up the avenue. (It is only 6 tenths if you walk the side roads.) The shopping center looks even newer than the apartment buildings. There is a Schnucks and a Target, as well as numerous other mid-scale retail outlets such as one would expect in a sprawling strip-style mall. The parking lot is, again, ample and, on most days, obviously quite easy to navigate. Today, Anderson Cooper is wandering around the parking lot, talking on his cellphone. A purely impressionistic glance suggests that Mr. Cooper did not play basketball on his high school varsity team, but one should not assume.
The friend I am accompanying goes over to ask the patrolling National Guards troops about the location of the demonstrations. The soldiers are themselves looking quite neat and trim. They walk the area in pairs, without helmets but evidently in body armor; no minor burden, given the humid and rather blistering heat coming up in the afternoon. They carry side arms and communications equipment, but no rifles. Standing over in the Wendy’s, I take a couple photographs. The above mentioned parking lot, so easily navigable on most days, is (by my hopelessly unscientific eyeball guess) 50% shut down by police tape, roping off the media staging area; a significant part of this latter is occupied with tents and trucks with satellite dishes on them. There are at least seven such trucks visible, and the dishes (again, by unscientific eyeball) are a good 10 – 12 feet in diameter. This is where Anderson Cooper is strolling and talking.
My friend returns. There was not much enthusiasm for answering her questions, but they did say that during the day, signs and marchers were mostly on Florissant avenue, between Ferguson Avenue and Canfield drive. Canfield drive is, of course, where the unarmed Michael Brown was killed, and his body left stewing in the sun for four hours, by the Ferguson police. It is not clear why Brown’s body was left lying in the middle of the street for so long, nor why no attempt was ever made to provide him with any medical attention at the time of the shooting.
These things are irrefutable facts, as are the facts about the neighborhood where he was shot. Canfield dr. is not a gang stronghold, nor a major drug avenue. There was no graffiti on the buildings, no hostile eyes leering at two white people coming to pay their respects at the memorial set strangely far back from Florissant avenue, at the spot in the middle of Canfield drive where Michael Brown died. It is strangely far back from Florissant, upwards of a quarter mile. I’ve lived in worse neighborhoods, and never come home to blood and a mouldering corpse in the middle of the street – why did these people?
The marchers along Florissant are carrying the torch at the hardest, most unromantic time of the day. The news people do set up an occasional camera, interview someone now and then. But Ferguson in the daylight is not lede material: it doesn’t bleed, it only grieves. The nominal leader of the marchers is calling out two main chants; his voice is hoarse and pained from hours of this. The two main chants are, “Who am I?” with the response, “Michael Brown.” The second is, “Hands up!” with response, “Don’t shoot.” “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!” has become the central meme for the protesters. Supporters drive by honking their horns, and the proper response is to raise both hands – hands, mind you, not fists in defiance, but open hands. I do not take any pictures of the people, because it feels invasive of me to do so. I suppose I should have – it would have cost me nothing to ask. But I am not feeling especially articulate.
At the corner of Florissant and Ferguson, a young man is handing out an ACLU “Know Your Rights” brochure
Florissant avenue has been badly damaged; the most understandable rage will sadly express itself in the most irrational forms of self-destruction. Many windows are boarded up, but most of them have big “Open” signs painted on them. Most of them. The people of Ferguson appear determined to soldier on. There are many rumors of outsiders coming in to “party on the violence” after dark (that is my phrase.) I can neither confirm nor deny, since if there are such persons, they wait for the relative anonymity of night. There are outsider present during the day, such as myself and my friend. We meet someone from Chicago who says she just had to come down and pay her respects. I’ve read of people from New York and California.
We join the marchers for a circuit of the demonstration area on Florissant. Many cars go by honking their horns and raising their hands in support. My friend has brought a sign of her own composition and making:
America: The cries don’t stop
Just because we stopped listening.
She actually asked me for some input on the wording the night before – she’s thoughtful, that way. But the words are all hers. I was still struggling to find my own. My friend wanted to say something of her own that did not specifically invoke race. She understands – as does every person capable of even the abstract possibility of thought – that this death is about nothing other than race, but the wound cuts much deeper. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” declared Dr. King, too many times and places to bother citing.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.
There are actually three memorials set up on Canfield: the main one, in the middle of the street where Michael Brown’s body lay for so long, and two others off to the side. To the other side of the road are small pavilion style tents with desks where people work to organize the neighborhood. A county police car rolls by on a very regular basis, the driver repeating a single message into his PA: “Buy food! Buy food!” The crowds in the area swell into the many hundreds at night, rendering Canfield and Florissant entirely unpassable. People in the neighborhood need to get to the store now, during the day, if they have any hope of restocking their groceries. A person I’ve never seen before remarks on this, rather astonished because it really is an official, county police vehicle, on official, county police business. A private van pulls up across the street, and people begin off-loading flats of water for the people working in the tents. Another stranger comes by and strikes up a conversation with my friend and I. She asks where we are from, and we say; she thanks us for coming out to show our support.
When we finish our circuit of Florissant avenue, the young man who has been calling out the chants – his voice so raw that he is now barely able to speak – tells us that they will be taking a break for a little while. My friend and I agree that this is as good a time as any to leave. It was never our intention to stay beyond daylight, and we’d done what little we could to pay our respects. As we are leaving, we pass one of the “long-timers” who has set up his position on Florissant with his signs. My friend wants to leave her sign behind, and continue to offer her message. The fellow seems pleased that we asked and offers his nodding assent. Apparently, he really liked my friend’s sign. Glancing back as we left, we saw him placing it in a far more elevated and prominent place than the one where my friend had set it.
Gary Herstein said:
By the way, if you are ever confronted by someone holding a gun, remember: PEOPLE DO NOT HEAR THE NEGATIVE. That means that, if you say, “Don’t shoot,” what the person hears is, “SHOOT.” Speak only in positives: “My hands are up!” “It is OK,” “I am safe,” “Tell me what you want,” and so on. Bonding with the person is also good, asking them their name, etc. If you have the chance to establish that you are a person, it makes it harder for them to kill you. Establish eye contact if you are able. (This last can be very difficult, as professionals are trained to avoid eye contact and look only at center-body-mass.)
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Barbara Reid (@reid_bj) said:
This made me cry:
“I do not take any pictures of the people, because it feels invasive of me to do so. I suppose I should have – it would have cost me nothing to ask. But I am not feeling especially articulate.”
Thank you, Gary. Your empathy speaks volumes. It’s the small things.
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I’ve read this now three times, with intervals of days between each reading.
It is perfect, and beautiful.
This is your work at its finest.
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