Ferguson Day 5
This was the first day of the State of Emergency that was declared by Gov. Jay Nixon. We made it to the command center prepared with press passes at 5:30 PM. There was the largest media presence we had seen yet, NBC Nightly News was doing a live broadcast and Jesse Jackson walking around talking to people and taking pictures. Everyone was waiting for the National Guard to show up, and as soon as the hummers pulled into the parking lot all of the media went running to get footage of them setting up.
W. Florissant was nearly silent when we got there. Police had put a fence around Quik Trip and told everyone that if they stopped walking on the sidewalks they would be arrested. Even after some arrests the police were getting lenient with some protesters, and there was a vacant bank building parking lot that was being used as a general assembly area where people could stop walking.
Groups eventually formed on the street and chanting began, but noting out of the ordinary happened until protesters and media started running to the general assembly area. The St. Louis rapper Nelly had shown up and was pulled onto the top of a truck to speak to the crowd. It did not go well. He talked about not using violence and to stick to the plan, to which the crowd asked “What is the plan?”. He handed off the megaphone to someone else to calm the crowd. He said everyone there has opportunities, and people yelled that he had opportunities because he was rich they did not. He got off the truck and talked to people while marching with protesters after his speech.
I reluctantly stayed after dark, Dane and Josh wanted to stay and watch the situation until everyone went home, but having my camera stolen the night before, I was ready to leave. Since none of us got injured at the end of the night I’m glad they didn’t listen to me.
Things stayed calm until sometime around 9:45 PM. The police moved in in riot gear with shotguns, assault rifles, gas masks, and MRAPs following behind them. Nothing had really happened to cause them to show up in such force, but it did draw an angered reaction from the protesters. Everyone stopped marching and made their way into the street to attempt to go face to face with the police line. After organizers failed to stop the crowd from filling the streets a they formed a line and linked arms about 5 feet in front of the police to keep the situation from escalating.
In the next hour glass and frozen water bottles were thrown while we were in the media area, and as we had the chance we moved down W. Florissant as the police moved. We came to the next police line across the street at Quik Trip. There were a few random, sporadic sounds of what people were saying were gunshots, but they didn’t seem near us so we stayed crowded around a transformer on the sidewalk with other journalists. There was a large group on the sidewalks near the burned down gas station and another in the street on Northwinds Estates Drive that led back to some apartment buildings.
The police were on a loudspeaker telling everyone to disperse and to stop throwing objects. Protesters grabbed traffic cones and a couple even ripped a do not enter sign out of the ground and held it in the middle of the street facing the police. Many people decided to stay in the area the police started firing CS smoke, tear gas, and stun grenades.
The police had moved one truck and a swat team a few feet up the street from where we were standing and were firing rubber bullets to try to clear the area. We were now stuck in a war zone, pinned down in the middle of the protesters and police. We were being disoriented by gas and flash-bangs going off near us, we were also having bottles breaking and smoke canisters being thrown back near us.
As a second armored truck and swat team moved past the Northwinds Estates Drive intersection there was nothing between us and protesters. Guns were being fired in our direction and we could hear the bullets zipping over our heads. We hit the ground and hid behind the transformer. As the police shot rubber bullets in the direction of the gunshots a couple officers ran over to us screaming at us to leave the area and we scattered.
I ran towards Lang Ave. directly into a cloud of tear gas. I laid against the wall at nearest house and asked a journalist across the street if he had any water because snowboarding googles and paper mask did nothing for the tear gas I had been exposed to. He told me to rub grass on my face but when that did not work I ripped dirt out of the ground and rubbed it in my face and it helped. When everything died down I walked back to Canfield where the police had moved to and journalists were regrouping. There was someone laying in the street who had been shot, and the police were telling us to leave.
We made it back to the media area and the St. Louis City Police Chief was telling everyone to go to the command center. The police were going to sweep the area and they wanted all of the media out. We waited for the next couple of hours for Captain Johnson to give his press conference, and when he got there he showed two handguns and a molotov cocktail that had been seized during the arrests.
Here is a short video just from this night that has some of the events I talked about in this post. We are in Ferguson making a documentary showing first hand what is happening there.