Day 4 – August 17
On a last minute decision at 8 PM Dane and I decided to return to Ferguson. We had already had a night of footage with rioting, and by social media accounts at that time, this night had been even more of a block party than the peaceful protest on the 14th, there were people breakdancing and bands playing in parking lots. We got on W. Florissant at 9 PM and we found a very different scene than what we were expecting.
The night before we only had to present ID and register in the press area at Ferguson Liquor parking lot we decided not to bring press passes. This was one of many mistakes that I would make that night. When we got to the parking lot there were very few members of the press in the area, and armored police vehicles were coming down all 5 lanes of the street shooting tear gas about a block from us.
There were hundreds of people running down the street and W. Florissant had turned into a one way street since it was open to traffic and many people had parked their cars in the parking lots. Everything happened very fast and there were protesters stuck in the chaos some with dogs and children. As I was getting out my camera and putting on my lens the police started firing tear gas in the parking lot we were in. I hid behind the liquor store and put on a helmet, goggles, and an almost useless painters mask to help with the gas.
I met back up with Dane in the parking lot of Mc Donald’s right after protesters had broken a large window to get in. After we started filming them we realized that none of them were looting, but they were getting milk and forming a line out to the parking lot passing cups of water to help people who had been hit the hardest by tear gas. The police were moving in close to us and I moved into the street by myself which was my next mistake.
I was trying to shoot some video in the street but I had to start running with the crowd to not get trampled, run over by a car, and to get away from tear gas. I was able to stop at the Canfield intersection where people had started bringing large bricks from the retaining walls of the parking lot of Public Storage into the street to create a barricade to slow down police. People were setting trash cans on fire and I even saw a man trying unsuccessfully to light a molotov cocktail, and even with these acts happening around me no one had threatened me or told me to stop filming them unlike other nights in Ferguson.
After tear gas started getting closer and my camera started drawing some attention to me I moved down to a yard of a house across the street from Quik Trip. There were some photojournalists that I knew and my friend Amy standing there. As the journalists crossed the street to shoot some video many gunshots from different gunmen rang out. We ran down the nearest residential street, but there were still shots being fired behind us.
We ran behind the first house with no lights on and had no cars in the driveway. As we sat next to a shed in the back yard the next door neighbor came out with his gun drawn and asked us what we were doing. I told him I was with the press and he said we could stay until things calmed down. I got a call from Dane after waiting a couple minutes as he was with reporters and photographers form CNN and Vice News on the other side of the police clearing W. Florissant. I gave phone interviews and made loose plans on meeting back up when we got out of there. The lights of the police helicopter kept coming closer as it circled the neighborhood and I started to accept the fact that once we moved on I was going to spend the night in jail, and I honestly would rather that happened than what was about to happen.
The neighbor came back and said that he was going to keep us from being arrested. He told us to hop the fence and get in his SUV and he would take us to my friends car on Chambers Road which was a few blocks north of where we were. When I hopped the fence I ripped my jeans from the zipper to the back pocket, but that was about to be the least of my worries.
As we pulled up to the gas station at the corner of Chambers and W. Florissant we could see a group of protesters were forming near the new police line. They were angry and chanting, but they were being peaceful. Two men approached me and told me about a car accident down the street from us on Chambers. They said that cars fleeing the riot were driving down the street the wrong way and hit other cars head on, and there were no cameras there when they left the scene. So I left by myself to get to the accident, and as I was out of sight from everyone at the gas station a man came up to me and asked to use my phone. I told him it was dead and as soon as I said that two men with their faces covered ran up on me from behind and grabbed me by my left arm. The man in front of me grabbed me by my wrist and forced my camera out of my hand. I chased after them for about 20 feet where there was a car with the doors open waiting for them.
This happened near a line of police and a camera man. The camera man came over to help me but there was nothing we could do since the car had sped off. The camera man gave me a ride back to the gas station and I convinced my friend to drive to the command center because it was almost midnight and the curfew was still in effect. After taking side streets and highways we found a way back that did not have a police roadblock, and Dane met us at the entrance to get us through the checkpoints.
After waiting a couple hours Captain Ron Johnson gave a press conference and said that the police moved on the crowd because some one had attempted to attack the command center with molotov cocktails. He said there were at least 8 different gunmen in the crowd and claimed that the Missouri National Guard would not be called to help the police.
At 2 AM the area still had not been deemed safe by police, and they offered us and some other stranded journalists a ride back to our cars in the back of a police van. On the way to my car we were checking our twitter feeds and learned that Gov. Jay Nixon had issued a state of emergency, and that the National Guard was going to be in Ferguson the next day assisting the police. We knew that we were coming back the next day and that decision would almost cost us our lives.