Scenes From The Ferguson We Didn't See On TV

DeShawn White, 12 (from left), Tayron Wilhite, 13, and Ricky Allen, 15, would normally have been in school, but officials postponed the first week of classes due to the unrest in the wake of the shooting. i

DeShawn White, 12 (from left), Tayron Wilhite, 13, and Ricky Allen, 15, would normally have been in school, but officials postponed the first week of classes due to the unrest in the wake of the shooting. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
DeShawn White, 12 (from left), Tayron Wilhite, 13, and Ricky Allen, 15, would normally have been in school, but officials postponed the first week of classes due to the unrest in the wake of the shooting.

DeShawn White, 12 (from left), Tayron Wilhite, 13, and Ricky Allen, 15, would normally have been in school, but officials postponed the first week of classes due to the unrest in the wake of the shooting.

Eric Kayne for NPR

Before I went to Ferguson, Mo., to cover the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, a reported friend who was already joked that he was certain that he was sure that every person in the town had already been interviewed. And sure enough, the media crunch on was intense on West Florissant, the main boulevard that was the site of protests and clashes with the police in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown.

During the middle of a given weekday, it sometimes felt like there was a 1:1 ratio between protesters and members of the press. That would change as the day went on, when more demonstrators would come out after work. (Or maybe they were waiting out the humidity.) At night, the people on West Florissant would get younger and rowdier; it was many of those folks who were at the center of the skirmishes with the police that we all saw on television and on social media.

But Ferguson isn't a very large town. All those flash bangs and tear gas canisters were going off just behind people's homes or in front of their small businesses. It's your typical American suburb, and in many ways, it still was, even with all the clamor going on. Photographer Eric Kayne and I walked around the neighborhood chatting with people while they worked or relaxed, enjoying the last few weeks of summer, even as Ferguson had become the most recent locus for Our Ongoing National Conversation on Race.

Greg Jones (left) greeted Walter Nash as Nash cooked free barbecue for protesters. i

Greg Jones (left) greeted Walter Nash as Nash cooked free barbecue for protesters. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Greg Jones (left) greeted Walter Nash as Nash cooked free barbecue for protesters.

Greg Jones (left) greeted Walter Nash as Nash cooked free barbecue for protesters.

Eric Kayne for NPR
Two police officers waited out a passing thunderstorm along the protest route. i

Two police officers waited out a passing thunderstorm along the protest route. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Two police officers waited out a passing thunderstorm along the protest route.

Two police officers waited out a passing thunderstorm along the protest route.

Eric Kayne for NPR
People crossed West Florissant Avenue as evening approached. About two weeks after the first demonstrations, the protests began to wane, the police changed their posture, and West Florissant became calmer. i

People crossed West Florissant Avenue as evening approached. About two weeks after the first demonstrations, the protests began to wane, the police changed their posture, and West Florissant became calmer. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
People crossed West Florissant Avenue as evening approached. About two weeks after the first demonstrations, the protests began to wane, the police changed their posture, and West Florissant became calmer.

People crossed West Florissant Avenue as evening approached. About two weeks after the first demonstrations, the protests began to wane, the police changed their posture, and West Florissant became calmer.

Eric Kayne for NPR
A woman stands in front of a restaurant on West Florissant Avenue where rioting took place last month. Most of the stores on this stretch are boarded up — some after they were damaged by looters, and some as a precaution. i

A woman stands in front of a restaurant on West Florissant Avenue where rioting took place last month. Most of the stores on this stretch are boarded up — some after they were damaged by looters, and some as a precaution. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
A woman stands in front of a restaurant on West Florissant Avenue where rioting took place last month. Most of the stores on this stretch are boarded up — some after they were damaged by looters, and some as a precaution.

A woman stands in front of a restaurant on West Florissant Avenue where rioting took place last month. Most of the stores on this stretch are boarded up — some after they were damaged by looters, and some as a precaution.

Eric Kayne for NPR
Members of the Nation of Islam were a constant presence on the streets of Ferguson, and helped quash testy exchanges between protesters and the police. i

Members of the Nation of Islam were a constant presence on the streets of Ferguson, and helped quash testy exchanges between protesters and the police. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Members of the Nation of Islam were a constant presence on the streets of Ferguson, and helped quash testy exchanges between protesters and the police.

Members of the Nation of Islam were a constant presence on the streets of Ferguson, and helped quash testy exchanges between protesters and the police.

Eric Kayne for NPR
Many of the shops on the protest route were temporarily closed. This cross is the third in a series of pictures on this store's wall. Together, they read: "Oh The Blood." i

Many of the shops on the protest route were temporarily closed. This cross is the third in a series of pictures on this store's wall. Together, they read: "Oh The Blood." Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Many of the shops on the protest route were temporarily closed. This cross is the third in a series of pictures on this store's wall. Together, they read: "Oh The Blood."

Many of the shops on the protest route were temporarily closed. This cross is the third in a series of pictures on this store's wall. Together, they read: "Oh The Blood."

Eric Kayne for NPR
Asia Jackson (left) and Taylor Barnes sat in front of a West Florissant Avenue boutique on Aug. 20 in Ferguson, Mo. Both are from Ferguson and were out to support the protest. i

Asia Jackson (left) and Taylor Barnes sat in front of a West Florissant Avenue boutique on Aug. 20 in Ferguson, Mo. Both are from Ferguson and were out to support the protest. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Asia Jackson (left) and Taylor Barnes sat in front of a West Florissant Avenue boutique on Aug. 20 in Ferguson, Mo. Both are from Ferguson and were out to support the protest.

Asia Jackson (left) and Taylor Barnes sat in front of a West Florissant Avenue boutique on Aug. 20 in Ferguson, Mo. Both are from Ferguson and were out to support the protest.

Eric Kayne for NPR

The Shopkeeper

Sonny Dayan said the damage to his store and the ongoing protests had seriously hurt business, and that it would take him between six months to a year to make up the lost revenue. i

Sonny Dayan said the damage to his store and the ongoing protests had seriously hurt business, and that it would take him between six months to a year to make up the lost revenue. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Sonny Dayan said the damage to his store and the ongoing protests had seriously hurt business, and that it would take him between six months to a year to make up the lost revenue.

Sonny Dayan said the damage to his store and the ongoing protests had seriously hurt business, and that it would take him between six months to a year to make up the lost revenue.

Eric Kayne for NPR

Sonny Dayan was at the counter at St. Louis Cordless, his shop that happens to sit smack in the middle of where all the unrest happened.

"I've been here for a long time and this is unusual," he said.

The windows of the shop had all been boarded up, and some display cases were missing their glass. They'd been smashed during the looting a few nights before, and some folks made off with some of the refurbished phones and tablets that he sells. All of the other nearby businesses on the strip had boarded the windows, too — although for some shops, it was just a precautionary measure. From the street, though, all the wood made it hard to tell which stores were open for business.

Dayan's store sells electronics and a hodgepodge of other stuff, but they primarily made money selling cellphone plans and on the small fees people they assessed when people came there to pay utility bills. He said the 15th of each month is pretty important: it's when a lot of people get paid, and so it's when traffic to the store picks up. But not this August.

"That's the week that all this chaos was starting," he said. "We're experiencing a loss of almost 70 percent of revenue."

It was another blow for his business, which was seeing sluggish traffic even before the protests and demonstrations.

"I would say it would take about two weeks to a month to recover," he said. But he said repairs would have to wait until the commotion just outside died down. He wasn't sure if his insurance claim would be honored, though — "civil unrest" fell outside of his coverage.

He found out the store was looted when his security alarm company called him late one night not long after the shooting. He rushed down to the store, but the police weren't letting anyone on the street. When finally got to take a look inside a few hours later, he found the place trashed.

"It was a mess," he said. "The whole floor was a mess. Drinking bottles, liquor bottles. I found a sack of marijuana. I mean, there was some sort of a celebration. It was chaos."

But St. Louis Cordless had been on West Florissant for 17 years, and the people in the area knew Dayan well. He said he wanted to wanted to be left alone for awhile to clean up the store take some time to collect his thoughts — "my therapy," he said. "But people wouldn't let me!"

Residents heard what happened to his store and came over to help him with the mess. "Starting at like 5 a.m. in the morning people were bum-rushing — 'I gotta help!' 'I gotta help you!' " he said. "People in the neighborhood who know us, and people who didn't know us at all — they felt like they had to send a message that there was good out there."

An Extra Week Of Summer

On Ellison Drive, some young women were sitting in chairs on their lawns. It was hot out — very, very hot out — but the trees on the block kept them pretty shaded.

A bunch of teenagers switched back and forth between throwing around a football and playing basketball on a portable hoop. The extra days of fun were an unexpected bonus; they would have been in school had the city not postponed the first week of classes because of all the turmoil. It was a late summer idyll, and a jarring contrast to the pitched nightly confrontations between angry civilians and heavily armed police around the corner.

Markquetta Powell (left) and Deborah Austin chatted on a sidewalk. i

Markquetta Powell (left) and Deborah Austin chatted on a sidewalk. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
Markquetta Powell (left) and Deborah Austin chatted on a sidewalk.

Markquetta Powell (left) and Deborah Austin chatted on a sidewalk.

Eric Kayne for NPR

Terrell Wilhite had purchased the basketball hoop for his kids, and he sat on his porch and watched his sons play ball with some slightly older boys. Wilhite was in a chatty mood. His youngest son, a wiry 11-year-old, played three sports. Wilhite was bragging about him in that way that fathers brag about their kids. ("Remember his name," he told me.)

Then he turned to the furor that was taking place each night, just behind his house. Wilhite said he was home the day of the shooting, and that he had heard the gunshots that killed Michael Brown.

"In this justice system, for black folks, it's not fair for us," Wilhite told me. "But it's become so common that we're used to it now." He hadn't been out protesting himself, but his sympathies were with the demonstrators. Still, he was pessimistic about whether much would change once everything settled down again.

Wilhite told me that he was a retired Crip, which is when I realized that the navy blue pants and blue-speckled necklace he was wearing probably weren't a coincidence. He said that a lot of the younger guys who were out on the streets during the protests were from rival gangs, and that they had shelved their beefs for the meantime while they were demonstrating against the police.

Like nearly everyone I'd talked to in Ferguson, Wilhite had a story of a run-in with the local police. His was probably the most egregious, though: when he lived in a town about five minutes away, he and his girlfriend were having a loud argument in their driveway, he said. Someone called the cops. Wilhite said he ran and hid from them. When the two officers who responded to the call finally caught up with him, they tasered him, beat him up, and left him on the side of the road in a different town. He said that he spent four days in the hospital.

Google my name if you don't believe me, he told me.

So I did. Sure enough: In 2011, the city of Bellefontaine Neighbors settled with Wilhite for $90,000 to resolve a federal suit he'd filed against the police department.

"They're making it seem like Ferguson is really bad, but this been going on [all over St. Louis]," he said, with a cigarette dangling from his hand. "Ferguson just got caught."

After the police set up barriers in the road, some residents complained that they weren't able to get to their homes. Some cars were seen driving through yards to get around the barriers. i

After the police set up barriers in the road, some residents complained that they weren't able to get to their homes. Some cars were seen driving through yards to get around the barriers. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
After the police set up barriers in the road, some residents complained that they weren't able to get to their homes. Some cars were seen driving through yards to get around the barriers.

After the police set up barriers in the road, some residents complained that they weren't able to get to their homes. Some cars were seen driving through yards to get around the barriers.

Eric Kayne for NPR
A sprinkler watered a backyard lawn near West Florissant Avenue. i

A sprinkler watered a backyard lawn near West Florissant Avenue. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
A sprinkler watered a backyard lawn near West Florissant Avenue.

A sprinkler watered a backyard lawn near West Florissant Avenue.

Eric Kayne for NPR
A kid stops to tie his shoe along West Florissant Avenue. i

A kid stops to tie his shoe along West Florissant Avenue. Eric Kayne for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Kayne for NPR
A kid stops to tie his shoe along West Florissant Avenue.

A kid stops to tie his shoe along West Florissant Avenue.

Eric Kayne for NPR

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