FERGUSON, Mo. — “It happened right here.”
Dominique Clemons is standing at the corner of Canfield and Caddiefield streets, pointing to the middle of the road where Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, was shot and killed by a white police officer five days earlier.
“Last time I drove by here you could still see spots of blood on the ground,” says Clemons, holding back tears. “I can’t believe something like this is happening where I live.”
This St. Louis suburb has been the scene of turmoil and escalating public tension for several days. Earlier this week, protesters looted and destroyed businesses less than a half-mile from where Brown took his last breath. Then police dressed in fatigues waved military-style weapons and lobbed tear gas to disperse crowds from Florissant Avenue, a main thoroughfare in this town of 21,000.
Thursday night’s demonstration was far less eventful from a public safety standpoint. Still, thousands of protesters paraded down Florissant on foot and in a bumper-to-bumper convoy. Some of them hung outside car widows chanting “No justice, no peace.” Horns shrieked for hours.
“Madness,” said David, a 34-year-old father of three who asked that his name not be published because “it’s just a bad time for bad things to happen.”
Other residents made similar requests, saying that they are less trusting in a town that is nearly 70 percent black but patrolled by nearly an all-white police force.
Instead of joining the pack on Florissant, David has led a daily peaceful protest on the residential street where Brown was shot.
“This is ground zero,” he says, looking over at a makeshift memorial in the street. “We can’t let people forget that a murder took place.”
But while thousands rallied at Thursday’s main event, only a few dozen stopped by during the evening to see the candles and other remembrances left for the teen teachers reportedly described as a “Gentle Giant.”
David, a maintenance worker and electrician, has logged almost 25 hours this week at the corner of Canfield and Caddiefield streets. At times a few friends have brought out their lawn chairs to join him.
“It’s sad that it took a neighbor to die for us to come out and start talking to each other,” he said. “God has a strange way of working.”
On Thursday evening — over the chorus of horns coming from Florissant — David, his friends and a few strangers talk politics, racial injustices and a lot about children.
“My kids need a future. All of our kids need a future,” he said. “It’s time we stand up and start showing some leadership.”
Later in the evening David’s wife, Aurellia, joins him. To get there, she had to walk by where Brown died.
“I’ll never be able to walk in that spot again,” Aurellia said. “I’ll have to walk around it. I don’t even want to get close to it.”
Earlier in the day David had to stop their 3-year-old daughter from trying to pick up one of the teddy bears left at the makeshift memorial.
“She didn’t understand,” he said, shaking his head. “Once my children get old enough I’ll have to explain it to them. And I will tell them the truth.”
For now, David tries to wield his wisdom on other youths in the community. Late Thursday, he stopped three teenage boys who were walking home from the big protest on Florissant. The young men listened politely as he encouraged them to stay in school and out of trouble.
“If you act like animals they are going to put you in a cage,” David told them. “I want you to get an education so you can be the police officers.”
As he spoke, two of boys removed the makeshift masks they had been wearing to mimic some of the protesters at the rally.
“Thank y’all for coming out,” David told the teens as they walked off. “Stop and show Brother Mike some love because that could have been any of y’all.”
Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).
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