Ferguson protests: A view from the street
I was anxious all day knowing that I would drive to the Ferguson protests with my 10 YO son after he got out of school yesterday. Devlin remembers when we got up very early one cold day in February 2012 to face off with the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of the acceptance of LGBT students and staff by Clayton High School. Needless to say, when Devlin and I arrived in Ferguson, we were met by armored vehicles and National Guard Troops with weapons instead of high school kids dressed up as My Pretty Pony carrying rainbow flags. (Although that would have been awesome. Unicorns can be versatile protesting symbols…)
I grew up on army forts so I am accustomed to milling about military hardware and soldiers, but it was jarring to see them so out of context and on civilian streets. The very presence of police, weapons and soldiers made me feel guilty, like I was on the verge of unwittingly committing a crime and could be handcuffed without provocation or notice. The police officers I interacted with were mostly quite pleasant, despite the humidity and the heat. As we made our way towards Ferguson Ground Zero, Devlin started to get impatient. “WHERE IS THE PROTEST ALREADY?” he demanded to know. I cringed anxiously. I struggled to quiet him like when your child points to an overweight person in the grocery store and tugs their sleeve to ask them why they eat so much. “Keep walking, baby. We’ll get there.”
It’s hard to imagine that this (all of it) is going on in my community, even though I saw it with my own eyes. I wasn’t sure where to park or what expression to have on my face. I was scared I was going to make a wrong turn down a one-way street and become surrounded by the Missouri National Guard. It felt safer outside my car because the rules on foot were more transparent than accidentally driving into a restricted area. I was uncomfortable at first wondering if our white faces would be welcome among the mostly black protesters. Would our white faces in that crowd be viewed by some as a betrayal of the homogenous community in which I actually live? Does that really matter? I clutched Devlin’s hand firmly and hugged him as we walked. All parents want to protect their children. I smiled nervously at anyone who would make eye contact with me. When all else fails, smile and walk confidently.
Hello, brawny police officer holding a loaded rifle.
Greetings, young mother with two toddlers in tow nodding at me.
How’s it going, gaggles of reporters from all over the country?
Hi, menacing angry teenager with a bandana over your face. (Oh, right. Tear gas.)
Nice to see you, Reverend.
Thanks for the flower, middle aged resident holding signs.
Does this protest make Anderson Cooper’s ass look big?
We saw Anderson Cooper arrive on the scene and I couldn’t help but think that this shit has gotten real, or sensationalized, or out-of-hand, or all of the above. Some residents were giving away free bottles of water. I chatted with them while Devlin negotiated for two free bags of sour cream and onion chips. (his favorite) A photographer from bustle.com asked us some questions and took our picture.
A crowd of about a hundred protesters were making their way slowly in a loop along W. Florissant chanting in support of Michael Brown’s family. Devlin reminded me he came here to protest, so we joined the crowd and started walking. We soon fell into a rhythm, and made conversation with folks to either side of us. I felt awkward chanting at first, but then I was part of some sort of momentum. We made friends with a young woman and man. We looked out for each other in the crowd as we watched a fellow protester get thrown to the street ten feet from us. Why was I there? Can I really relate? Is it safe to be here, and to be here with my son? I don’t want to add to the chaos.
I believe in innocent until proven guilty. I was not making a statement about the guilt or innocence of either side by my presence. There are too many facts we don’t know yet. Unlike many of my fellow protesters, I recognize the legal system takes time, and it must if it has any hope of getting it right. So why did I feel compelled to show up? I was bemoaning a local tragedy and the unfortunate heavy-handed, if not arrogant, response by the Ferguson and St. Louis County Police. I was exercising the 1st Amendment right my father, a retired army Colonel, and my husband, a West Point grad, served to protect. I wanted to foster solidarity. I believe we are all of one community in St. Louis no matter which part of the city or county we live in. I wanted to let others know that the justice system is not equal for all of us and we still have a lot of work to do. Mostly, I went there as a parent.