FERGUSON, MO — The morning after the grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, following the subsequent protests in and around Ferguson, ThinkProgress sat down with Canfield residents about the events that took place and their initial reactions to the decision and neighborhood unrest.
I thought they was going to shoot me in the head. I was scared for my life. It’s treacherous out here.
“The verdict ignited anger in some younger residents in the community, who are tired of waiting around for change,” said 38-year-old Justin Winfield, a Missouri native and resident of nearby Northwoods. The protests and unrest did not surprise him, due to the city’s history of police brutality and the younger generation’s disillusionment with the authorities. “Police disrespect towards residents is endemic to the city and state. Police officers have been harassing me for a long time, for no reason at all. He explained one instance in which two cops approached him and searched his body for marijuana,” he explained. “I thought they was going to shoot me in the head. I was scared for my life. It’s treacherous out here. “
Winfield explained that the decision to set fire to certain stores along W. Florissant Avenue was strategic. Protesters targeted stores they felt were allied with the community, like the beauty store that was torched, citing mistreatment of local residents by business owners.
But Winfield says that the tragic situation has yielded some positive outcomes. “I think it’s been good for the community; it put a light on us.” He alluded to the people he would never have encountered if Mike Brown had not lost his life. “I’m glad that it brought the people together.”
I couldn’t hold it in yesterday. I just started crying, because there is no hope for us.
Aurelia Whitt, a mother and Canfield resident who lives close to the Brown family, said that many gunshots were fired in the neighborhood. She expressed the sadness she felt last night. “I haven’t had a loved one taken, but just knowing that my people are treated like this hurts my heart. I couldn’t hold it in yesterday. I just started crying, because there is no hope for us. There is no hope for anybody. What can I do? I’m not one to go set things on fire, but I’m not going to buy their shit. What are we living for?”
Her husband, David Whitt, who started the local Cop Watch chapter in Ferguson to film police activity, felt similarly, and talked about the way racial tensions in Ferguson have affected the black community. “They train us to hate ourselves. When I was in Berkeley with people who started Cop Watch, I told them that when you talk about coming to Ferguson to help, [they] have to understand that these are freed Americans that are still treated like slaves and are mentally still enslaved. “
Whitt felt that the presence of the white allies who descended upon Ferguson leading up to the grand jury decision was generally positive. “The fact of the matter is, the protesters that are coming from outside, standing with us in solidarity, have actually been creating safe [situations]. They’re the only thing that’s kept cops from attacking protesters. Now police have to practice using discretion; they can’t just come in tear gassing everybody and shooting at folks. They got to do things differently. When they came down W. Florissant last night, they just made the people get out of the streets as opposed to telling everybody ‘get the hell out.’ We needed those folks.”
But the couple also agreed that building alliances with outsiders will be a lengthy process. “It takes time to gain trust,” said Aurelia. Piggybacking off of her words, David continued, “You show respect first and see how you’re taken. That’s why you have conversations with people. You can’t tweet an impression. By us talking here, I can get a sense of if you’re feeling where I’m coming from. “