In the last five days, Ferguson, Missouri, USA has played host to many scenes of violence involving citizens of the greater St. Louis region and the police from the city of Ferguson and those from the St. Louis County Police Department. The initial incident that sparked subsequent protests and clashes with police was the Saturday shooting of an unarmed, Black teenager by an officer from the Ferguson police department.
Since that shooting, there have been peaceful protesters that have taken to the streets of the St. Louis County suburb that demanded answers to many questions from the police about the shooting. Simultaneously, there have also been other individuals that have come to the town and caused large scale property damage and burglary during a vacuum in police presence.
Subsequently, there has been a consistent ratcheting up of tension between protesters/reporters on the scene of daily demonstrations and police as the local and county departments have increased both the number of officers in the area and the tonnage and strength of materiel. As of the writing of this post, there is no reported movement by the police to stop the escalation of weaponry that they display or decrease it even while there has been no direct violence shown by protesters nor continued property damage by people from outside of the city.
I report the above as undisputed facts in what has been occurring without commentary. The clashes between police and protesters has gone from peaceful daytime marches to tear gas being deployed to disperse residents of the area. I will not introduce opinion (at this time) into how this has gotten this far down this road and what the outcome may be.
However, I was a reporter at CBS’ largest owned and operated radio station, KMOX, back in 1999 during the time of another protest that caused, arguably, a larger disruption to the entire St. Louis area that involved issues of race and received national attention. During a summer protest 15 years ago that involved Reverend Al Sharpton, people walked onto one of the area’s main arterial highways during morning rush hour to demand more minority participation in construction projects. This protest shutdown the highway for hours and caused major backups on all of the area roads.
But, in that demonstration, the interaction between the City of St. Louis Police Department, the Governor of the state, and the citizen protesters was totally peaceful, even while more than 100 arrests were made since the protesters were actually breaking the law by walking on and blocking the highway. (The protesters in the past week have not been breaking any laws during their protests, but the looters clearly were.)
The message of disapproval was heard by the state from the citizen groups and changes were subsequently made. Here are two reports (one live on the highway and one after the fact) that I made on the scene on the highway and back in downtown St. Louis. First the beginning of the arrests, starting with Al Sharpton:
This clip is a post event report to the CBS network with finalized numbers and statistics surrounding the highway shutdown:
While these two protest scenarios are not totally analogous, they do share a good deal of overlap. It also shows that it is possible inside of the entire St. Louis Metropolitan area to have large scale protests take place without the perpetration of violence by the police toward peaceful citizens or the committing of crimes by criminals that take advantage of decreased police attention.
I MAY come back to this blog with a much, MUCH longer and broader set of posts to contextualize some of the drama that is occurring now in St. Louis (because SO much is needed now), but I have not 100% decided to do so. I want to make sure to separate my opinion, as much as possible, from facts on the ground when talking about this very sensitive subject while providing as much information as possible to the people I know are reading and listening around the world to these events.
Feel free to spread this link, if you choose.
(h/t to KMOX and CBS)