25 Nov 2014

What began with the death of Michael Brown is not over yet

So the grand jury spoke. And what followed was protest and anger and a sense that there was never any other way this was going to fall.

In this most digital age, protesters clustered around cars to listen to radio speakers, to hear the decision that no charges should be laid against Darren Wilson, the white policeman who shot the unarmed teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown.

From the moment the prosecutor began describing the unreliability of eyewitnesses, faces fell. The mother of Michael Brown clambered to the top of a car and began remonstrating with the voice of the prosecutor. “They’re wrong,” she called, in tears. Some in the crowd called out “We love you, Lesley”.

As the decision became clear, she was bundled away, and the protesters found their voices in fury and in hurt.

One young woman, whose nose was pierced and her hair orange, told me she was scared. She has a young brother. It could have been him. It could have been her. Only because of the colour of their skin. She was called Diamond. She says that now, everything changes. For Black America, it has to.

Another young man, clustered with friends at the back of the crowd, said that this isn’t about colour, it’s about money. If Michael Brown had been wealthy, that might have assured justice.

The only good that can be done? He says the wealthiest of the community combining their wealth and buying their own politician. Even the upside in Ferguson wasn’t very up tonight.

At the front of the modest crowd, a police line stood in front of the police station. Bottles were thrown. And then protests moved from one end of the street to another, more fortified, police line with officers in full riot gear, backed up by armoured vehicles.

The catalogue of events we witnessed ran from bottles and rocks being thrown, police firing tear gas, warning that, if people didn’t get off the road, they would be arrested.


Armoured vehicles pressed the crowd from north to south and back again. A handful of protesters ran forward to tip a car and set fire to it. We saw glass windows of shops being smashed, glass windows of shops not being smashed as other protesters remonstrated with the handful and stopped the destruction.

But in other places it didn’t stop. We watched a pizza place burn to the ground – Little Caesar’s didn’t stand a chance. Looters broke into the Walgreens drugstore across the road.

We heard gunfire three or four times and watched the owner of a mobile phone shop sweep glass from his front porch as the building that housed a beauty salon across the road sent plumes of smoke into the sky.

He said he hadn’t boarded up his shop – he imagined that, this time, there might be peace rather than destruction. He shook his head when he realised how wrong he was.

St Louis is not on fire. Unrest is not widespread. But on the streets of Ferguson tonight there was rage, arcing between four or five locations. What began with the death of Michael Brown is not over yet.

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