Adrees Latif / Reuters

Tense calm settles as Ferguson awaits grand jury decision

Violence-hit town strives for normalcy ahead of decision on indicting white police officer who killed unarmed black teen

FERGUSON, Mo. — If there’s a line between anticipation and fear, many found themselves balancing precariously on it Saturday in this St. Louis suburb ahead of a grand jury decision — expected to be announced any moment — on whether to indict a white police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager here on Aug. 9.

The plywood boards covering the windows of Roy Brown’s discount clothing store in downtown Ferguson went up two weeks ago in preparation for protests that he worries could turn violent if officer Darren Wilson is not indicted over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown (no relation to Roy). Lawyers for the teen’s family say he was trying to surrender. Wilson’s supporters say the officer fired in self-defense after the young man scuffled with him.

The killing scraped a raw nerve in U.S. racial relations and triggered weeks of sometimes-violent protests in Ferguson, calling for Wilson’s arrest.

Roy Brown took most of boards back down this past Wednesday in hopes of attracting more business. But on Saturday he said they were going back up again. Like many in Ferguson, he just wants all the uncertainty to be over.

Officials have not given a date or time the grand jury decision will be announced. “Not knowing what’s going to happen, that’s what is making me tense,” Roy Brown said.

He said he supports the peaceful protests — but not the violence and looting that hit some businesses in the weeks following the death of the Ferguson teen.

Nearly 30 storefronts have been boarded up along a stretch of West Florissant Avenue, near where Michael Brown was shot, an area many called “Ground Zero” during the August protests. Ferguson Burger Bar is one of the few that still have sunlight shining through its windows. Owner Charles Davis said he won’t shutter them unless one is broken.

“I have faith in my God that everything is going to be okay,” Davis said, adding that he bought the restaurant the day before Michael Brown was killed. He said leaving the windows bare sends a positive message to the community.

“I’ve had people come by just to say thanks for not boarding up,” Davis said. “And McDonalds (located across the street) hasn’t boarded up yet, so why should I?”

Down the street, ribbons fastened to a chain-link fence flapped in the breeze in front of the burned-out skeleton of a QuickTrip convenience store that was torched by vandals on Aug. 10. Inscribed on the ribbons were messages of optimism and peace. “Praying for justice,” one read. “Be a believer,” read another.

Just a 'regular old day'

Click here for Al Jazeera’s extensive Ferguson coverage.

Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri on Monday and much national attention remains tensely trained on Ferguson, waiting for the grand jury decision and subsequent reaction — but Saturday was still laundry day for resident Susie McDaniel, 32. “It feels like a regular old day to me,” McDaniel said as she waited at a West Florissant laundromat for seven loads of clothes to finish their wash cycles.

McDaniel said the media have perpetuated fear within the St. Louis area and blown the situation out of proportion, with all the reports of feared violence. “It makes us feel like we are about to make war with out own city,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad.”

McDaniel lives in the Canfield Green apartment complex near where Michael Brown was killed, but she said she will not be afraid to leave her house even if the grand jury decides not to indict Wilson – a scenario she she said seems inevitable.

Jetuan Rodgers, 42, said he also believes that officer Wilson will not face charges. “Everyone already knows what the answer is going to be. It just is what it is,” he said as he waited for a shave at the Clip Appeal barbershop on West Florissant Avenue. “It’s going to be an interesting weekend. I’ll tell you that.”

Rodgers, a Marine, said he marched in the August protests and saw police using tear gas, rubber bullets and other nonlethal ordinance against members of the crowd. He called the tactics “insane.”

“We might as well have been in Afghanistan,” he said. 

Rodgers said he will again join protests, but doesn’t want to see them turn violent like they did in August.

“I just hope they don’t burn the city down,” he said. 

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