In Missouri, A Tale Of Two Fergusons
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Protests in Ferguson, Missouri heated up again this week. That's after a St. Louis paper reported the leaked findings of a second autopsy report on Michael Brown. It found that the 18-year-old black man was shot at close range by a white police officer.
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The racial tensions in Ferguson have been under a national spotlight for nearly three months now. All that attention is troubling to many long-time white residents. As NPR's Cheryl Corley found, they say it's not an accurate depiction of the town they love.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Let's begin with the mayor of Ferguson. James Knowles III is 35 years old. He's white. He grew up in Ferguson, attended schools where African-Americans were in the majority.
JAMES KNOWLES: But I think one of the things that a lot of people missed is that African-Americans still have a different life experience in many cases, even in a community like Ferguson.
CORLEY: It's a divide the protesters in Ferguson say the Michael Brown shooting makes plain. It may also be a factor in a tense flare-up between protesters and the owners of Faraci Pizza just a few blocks away from the Ferguson police station and the daily protests near there.
DAWN MARSHALL: You can see we do everything fresh. We make our own dough. We make our own sauce.
CORLEY: That's Dawn Marshall working behind the counter with her husband, Jim. The windows in the building are boarded up. It's a precaution. Marshall says they've been getting threats after her husband confronted a group of protesters telling them they were hurting business by blocking the street. The situation escalated after protesters say Jim Marshall threatened them with a gun. His wife says it's become a scary situation.
MARSHALL: And there's a lot of concern. And a lot of people are afraid to speak up. Because once you say something, you become the target. And if you don't like them blocking your business, then you're racist whether you are or not.
CORLEY: Marshall says she feels for Michael Brown's parents. But she and her family have been running this business for nearly two decades and until now everyone got along. Two of the store's patrons are listening while they eat. Mimi and Tom Jasper, both optometrists, were reluctant to talk at first, but then shared their frustration about the intense focus on Brown's killing.
T. JASPER: Typically, you pick up the paper or listen to the news and pretty much every night or two, blacks are killing blacks. Where is Al Sharpton with that? You know, where is the -
M. JASPER: Where is the outrage in general?
JASPER: - Outrage in the black community over basically black-on-black crime?
CORLEY: The Jaspers don't live in the city, but the office where Mimi Jasper works is in town.
JASPER: And I think there are a lot of people in Ferguson who live in harmony with their neighbors. And it's a very mixed population. And that's not how it's being portrayed.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's history.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How much are these?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A dollar a piece.
CORLEY: Several blocks to the south in the backroom of a coffeehouse, volunteers are selling t-shirts, yard signs and all types of merchandise labeled with the moniker I love Ferguson.
Brian Fletcher is the chairman of the I-Love-Ferguson campaign and the city's former mayor. He says the campaign is designed to counter the image of a racially divided city.
BRIAN FLETCHER: Yes, we had a tragedy here. A young man's life was lost. We all have questions. We don't have all the answers we need. But we didn't want the world and the nation to think that we were a place with racial tension so high that nobody can walk without feeling harm to themselves.
CORLEY: Although both blacks and whites come in to by the I-Love-Ferguson merchandise, early on there were rumors that the money raised would go to the legal fund for Police Officer Darren Wilson.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No.
FLETCHER: No, no, not ever. We have - I haven't uttered his name on my sites.
CORLEY: Fletcher and volunteers say money raised goes to businesses hit by looting and those still losing money. This day sales are brisk.
Christine Struble (ph), a retired teacher buying a t-shirt, has lived in Ferguson for more than 30 years. Struble says the core of the community, people who live and work in Ferguson regardless of their race, were disturbed by Michael Brown's death. She has mixed emotions about the ongoing protest.
CHRISTINE STRUBLE: I'm thinking that perhaps people are losing a bit of sympathy with the protesters. It's like OK, come on. Let's get some things moving forward. Let's move forward.
CORLEY: This week the Justice Department and residents of Ferguson met in another closed-door forum to discuss city problems and how to address them.
(SOUNDBITE OF AMBIENT NOISE)
CORLEY: In a neighborhood called Old Ferguson West, there are plenty of I-Love-Ferguson yard signs. Laura and Brett Chappell (ph) just moved into one of the old Victorian homes here.
L. CHAPPELL: We've met - the neighbors in the white house are very nice.
CORLEY: The Chappells say the protest over Brown's killing has touched a nerve in this region. Before they made an offer on their new home, they actually marched in one of the demonstrations with their 15-year-old daughter Annie.
ANNIE: I like living here. But I just - if there was more violence, then that would be really scary. So I'm hoping things just - I mean, not settle down, because things need to be changed, but just that everything's - things are re-thought and things are solved.
CORLEY: The Chappells say many of the residents here are just hoping that this city on edge won't erupt again. A grand jury is still deliberating whether or not Officer Darren Wilson will face charges for the killing of Michael Brown. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.
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