I Visited Ferguson: If You Could See What I Saw

3 years ago
The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, some friends and I decided to visit Ferguson, Missouri, which has seen more than its share of attention, mostly negative, since the Michael Brown shooting last August 9.  My friends and I wanted to support the community and its businesses by visiting and spending time and money there.
I have lived most of my life in the St. Louis area. My husband and I raised our five daughters here, and we believe that it is a great place to raise a family.
 
I grew up in West St. Louis County, but currently live “across the river” in the city of St. Charles. Ferguson, in North County, is about 15 miles away, and is made up mostly of middle-class working families.
 
I have a lot of friends who live in Ferguson. One of my twin daughters, who is in college, has a sorority sister who is a lifelong resident.
 
Our entire community is hurting as the images of Michael Brown’s death and subsequent protests and riots have brought a lot of (mostly negative) attention to our region. Watching the news, you would think that the entire community has gone down in flames, and that the civil unrest is widespread and all-inclusive. 
 
I have friends who won’t even consider driving to North County due to the media coverage. They fear for their lives, though not a single life has been lost as a result of the protests. As I posted on Facebook the day I visited: “Not scary. Not scared.”
 

Image Credit: Parisa Faramarzi

My daughter’s sorority sister currently lives in Ferguson with her sister and her mother. Her parents built a successful business there. She loves Ferguson. They never once considered leaving Ferguson even during the height of the rioting, which (along with the peaceful protests) they could hear from their home.
The local women I had lunch with talked about all of the businesses and people who are dedicated to the community. One knew my daughter’s roommate’s family. This is a tight-knit community.
 
After lunch, I toured the area with my friend, Kim. She drove me through the two commercial areas that have been hit hard by the violent actions, and which have dominated the news. About a dozen buildings have burned down. Many other businesses remain open, but have their windows boarded up.
 
Trust me. They look bad. Very bad.
 
Those who took advantage, who looted and rioted, did not help the community or the situation. Almost every business in Ferguson has taken a financial hit since August.
 
That, however, is not the entire story.
 

Ferguson is a diverse community full of pride. It has an award-winning Farmers Market and a rich history. The library, on a stretch of road that includes burned-out buildings, remained open during the unrest, serving the children when schools were closed. 
 
One major business, Emerson Electric, is located in Ferguson; several others are nearby, including Boeing and Express Scripts.
 
In other words, this is a strong community made up of real people who care about it and each other. 
 
The restaurant where we ate was full of families and friends of various ages, colors, and ethnic groups. It was closed for one day, but has done a booming business since then, feeding law enforcement personnel, protesters, residents, and visitors.
 
Next, we drove through many residential areas. Not a single home had any damage. Many of these homes are directly behind the commercial buildings that were damaged. 
 
People were out raking leaves and putting up holiday decorations. I ♥ Ferguson signs were everywhere. If you drive through a residential area in Ferguson, you would not know what has been happening there.
 
We drove by the spot where Michael Brown was shot and lay for over four hours. It is a narrow residential street, with homes next to the apartment complex where he was shot.  
 
These buildings are about 40 feet from where he lay. That is not far. Look out the front window of your home to the middle of your street, and imagine seeing a person lying there for four hours bleeding onto the pavement.
 
This struck me, because the aerial video led me to believe that Michael Brown was walking down a major thoroughfare and blocking traffic. The video also blurred the body of Michael Brown, which the residents, including children, saw as he lay uncovered and unblocked from view. No wonder people were upset.
 
In fairness, this residential street is a major street into several neighborhoods. It is not a thoroughfare to any businesses, unless you are leaving the neighborhood. Should Michael Brown have been walking down the middle of the street? No. But how many times have I driven into a neighborhood and had to wait for kids to move out of the way because they are playing street hockey or ball or just taking up space?
 
In my humble opinion, the reporting just has not depicted this scene accurately.
 

Image Credit: Michelle Evans

My first marriage was to a police officer. In 1977, he was directing traffic at the Hussmann Refrigeration plant during a worker strike. In an act of anger, one of the union workers struck him with his car. He was not badly hurt, but I worried about the police officers every day. I also sympathized with the union workers who had gone without a contract for many months.
 
I believe that there is enough room for sympathy and understanding on all sides. Law enforcement has a tough job. Law enforcement is not all bad. Rioters and looters are not the same as peaceful protesters. 
 
Most of the actions in the community and around the country, in light of other, similar cases, have been peaceful. But even peaceful protests have been criticized by people who do not want to try and understand the cause, or even hear about it.
 
There is a huge middle ground here, and we, as a community and a country, need to try to find that middle ground to make a better place for everyone to live. 
 
I am disappointed in so many people who are choosing to take a polarized position on the situation in Ferguson (and other similar situations that have come to light since) which, ultimately is a reflection on the issue of race in America. That seems to be the way of the world these days: Pick a side, have polarized opinions, make hateful comments about those whose opinions differ from yours.
 
 
I’m glad I made the effort to visit Ferguson to learn more about what is happening there. What I learned is that there’s almost always more to the story, and the truth almost always lies in the middle. I, for one, am going to make more of an effort to seek additional information and truth before passing rash judgments, especially on the volatile issues of the day. My hope is that others will do the same.

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