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FERGUSON, Mo. — Erica Hampton cried when she saw what was happening in her town Sunday night: looting and violence after a vigil for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old African-American unarmed teen who was shot and killed by police on Saturday.
“It broke my heart,” she said. “I cried watching the news.”
So on Monday morning, she tried to make it right.
She took her two young children to a QuickTrip convenience store that had been looted and burned in northern St. Louis County. She and a few other people were sweeping the parking lot, picking up trash and moving large pieces of debris out of the area as others swung by to view the damage.
“I just felt like it was only right to get up here and help clean up the community,” she said. “I just felt like I need to get up with my kids, and we’re going to come out here together, and we’re going to help and show people that everybody is not like that. There are some good people around here. Let’s show them the other side of us.”
Ferguson, a mainly African-American municipality of just over 20,000 people, is a few miles north of downtown St. Louis in St. Louis County. Reports of looting spread to neighboring municipalities of Delwood and Jennings, south along West Florissant Avenue. Auto shops, restaurants and beauty salons were among those businesses damaged.
‘Its not the community here’
Business owners up and down this main stretch of road through the area were boarding up windows and sweeping up broken glass this morning. Christy Zisser and her husband arrived to see their family-owned tire and auto shop looted and the front windows broken. Security footage shows looters, including children, taking tires and rims from the building.
“I’m just glad our employees weren’t here,” she said. The business has been open for 30 years. Zisser, who is white, said that when they got there this morning, some individuals walking by shouted at them, telling them they had gotten what they deserved and to “get out of our [expletive] neighborhood.”
But longtime customers showed up all morning to help out and offer reassurance. Zisser, who reviewed the security footage from the looting, said customers she recognized drove their cars to block the shop’s garage doors so looters could not steal the cars inside.
“It’s not the community here,” she said of the looters.
More of the same
Nearby, protests outside the Ferguson Police Department continued as police in riot gear looked on. Approximately 100 protesters, mostly African-American, were shouting phrases such as “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” alluding to the fact that Brown was unarmed at the time of his death.
Ferguson police, along with other police departments from the county, responded with riot gear and one tanklike vehicle.
“Mike Brown is not the first one,” said protester Jerika Tyler. “This is not just for Mike Brown. This has gotten too far.”
Many at the protest, including Tyler, spoke of being harassed by area police. “I’m tired of paying tax dollars for people who kill our kids,” one protester yelled.
The line of police periodically moved down the street, breaking the group in two. Several protesters were arrested and put in police cars.
“What’s bothering me is the fact that I feel like they are violating my civil rights,” said demonstrator Kisha Jones. “I have the right to protest and stand right here without being arrested.”
A necessary conversation
Protest leaders urged the crowd to remain calm and peaceful and not to provoke the police. Many government officials, including the mayor of a nearby municipality, arrived and begged the protesters to disperse.
But the group’s frustrations were clear. To many, the police response was just more of the same.
“I’ve been a resident of Ferguson since I was 12 years old, and more than a few times, I’ve been harassed by Ferguson police,” said Bryant Stewart. “We are targeted. We are the likely suspects, and that makes the police bounty hunters.”
“Every day I’m looking in my rearview mirror, terrified I’m going to get pulled over,” he added. “This was a conversation we needed to have for a while.”
But above all, the protesters were trying to draw the attention away from the looting, which many feel does not characterize their community, and back to calling for justice for Brown.
“I think the fact that they are protecting this police officer’s identity is enough for you to know that something fishy is going on,” Stewart said. “They had a press conference and told us all the details would be transparent but gave us no details.”