The scene in Ferguson: Early morning quiet, fears for the day ahead


People flee as police advance on protesters firing tear gas and rubber bullets to force them from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

FERGUSON, Mo.– It was 4:42 a.m. and, perhaps for the first time since Saturday, this town was silent.

The remnants of tear gas and rubber bullets dot the blocks surrounding the blood-stained ground where Michael Brown was shot and killed. Outside the police station, the red and blue lights of the police cruisers cut through the early morning darkness.

But the sleeping residents and on-guard officers know the respite may be temporary. With the rising sun comes a reawakening of the rage that has for days gripped this town.

The arrival of the Rev. Al Sharpton and the anticipated release of the name of the officer who shot and killed Brown, an 18-year-old who would have begun college on Monday, threaten to reignite the heated passions that have sparked protests, violence and looting in the days since Brown’s slaying.

“It is a broader problem that we see in many circles, the feeling that black young men in particular are expendable,” Sharpton, a civil rights activist and MSNBC host, said Monday in an interview with The Post. “There is a racial aspect in this as well as a class aspect in this.”

Residents describe the current outrage echoing through the city as the product of years of tense relations between Ferguson’s majority-white police department and its majority-black population.

“It’s not right,” said Craig Ruffin, 29, a protester who faced tear gas on Monday night. “I’m a single parent of a 7-year-old daughter. That could have been her dead in the street.”

Details remain scarce as to what exactly led to Brown’s shooting. Police say he was involved in a scuffle with an officer and reached for the officer’s gun. Residents in the neighborhood of the shooting, rather, have described an incident in which the officer initiated a confrontation, drove his cruiser in reverse at Brown as he walked down the street and then shot him several times as he attempted to surrender.

Most infuriating for many is the rumor — unconfirmed by police but permeating public perception of the shooting — that Brown was shot in the head as he lay dying on the pavement.

“I just put myself in his shoes,” said Duane Finnie, 36, a childhood friend of Brown’s father and friend of the family. “Your last seconds of life and you’re getting shot down – executed – by someone who is supposed to protect you.”

As Brown’s family and friends filed into a news conference about the shooting Monday afternoon a minister declaimed Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear…”

Brown’s mother stepped to the microphone, overcome with emotion as her family members wailed in the sanctuary’s front row. Along the sides of the room sat many more friends of the family, their shirts declaring “no justice no peace.”

Battling tears, Leslie McSpadden used her time at the podium to urge witnesses to come forward and the community to remain peaceful.

“No violence, just justice,” she said through tears.

At a crowded meeting of the local NAACP early Monday evening, community leaders also urged responsible protest.

But it was just minutes after hundreds had begun departing from the meeting that demonstrations near the site of Brown’s death turn tense.

By nightfall, residents and riot police were engaged in what became an an hours-long standoff, as law enforcement lobbed tear gas canisters and shot rubber bullets at enraged protesters who refused to clear the street.

“I’ve never in my life seen anything like this,” said Eric Crawford, 25, who was caught in a volley of tear gas. “You’ve got people who are standing in their front yards getting shot with tear gas – in their front yards, at their own houses.”

It was a frightening scene, as residents stood down police dogs, armored vehicles and pointed guns while chanting, “We’re unarmed don’t shoot.”

By 11 p.m., the streets were clear but the tension remained.

And the consensus  — among many residents, community leaders, and journalists both visiting and local — is that the problems may have only just begun.

“One day, one month, one year from now… After you leave…” Crawford, a nine-year resident of the town, told this reporter, “it’s still gonna be f***** up in Ferguson.”

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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