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Friday, July 12, 2024

Coming home to Ferguson

People walk towards a car lot where several cars had been burned and damaged following a night of rioting in Ferguson, Missouri
People walk towards a car lot where several cars had been burned and damaged following a night of rioting in Ferguson, Missouri

As a black man who grew up near Ferguson, I dreaded going home for Thanksgiving this week. I watched cable news with dismay while I packed Tuesday. Familiar parts of my old neighborhood were burning. While the Tuesday morning sky was relatively calm above Ferguson as I landed, I knew things on the ground were different as soon as I saw the National Guard Humvees and police cruisers parked along the roads as I left Lambert-St. Louis Airport. Not even in the paranoid months following Sept. 11 had they been out in such force.

My mother, who lives a few minutes away from Ferguson, in Florissant, participated in the early peaceful protests after Michael Brown’s shooting. We talked almost daily about it. She had planned to attend the ill-fated evening march that occurred the day after his death on Aug. 9. If she hadn’t twisted her ankle at church that morning, she would have been caught up in the violence that turned Ferguson overnight into shorthand for a never-before-seen raw display of militarized police brutality on American soil.

Now that I was finally home for the first time since Brown’s death, I felt compelled to head down there. What I saw was devastating, but I also saw an opportunity for the town to move forward.

As I drove down West Florissant road, crossing over Interstate 270 into Ferguson, the empty but intact storefronts on the Florissant side quickly gave way to graffiti and boarded-up shops, bracing for the worst. Shopkeepers who had been spared from Monday night’s riot were girding for Tuesday night, quickly boarding up what they could before nightfall. I passed by a row of a dozen burned out cars and a destroyed Conoco gas station. Standing on the corner of West Florissant and Chambers near the police roadblock around dusk made me feel like I was in the middle of a far-away battle zone rather than the nearby salon where my mom and my sister regularly get their hair done. A lone olive-drab Humvee lurked behind a partially boarded-up Walgreens’. Across the street, the remains of the Prime Beauty Supply store still smoldered from last night’s riot, the building flattened to rubble as if it had been hit by a drone strike. The faint smell of smoke and destruction still lingered.

This wasn’t the Ferguson of my youth. Ferguson, Florissant and the other towns that make up the predominantly black North County part of St. Louis County were once examples of a thriving black middle class, with big-box stores such as Target and local supermarkets dotting the landscape. GM, Ford and former aerospace giant McDonnell Douglas provided plenty of high-quality, skilled manufacturing jobs. The loss of those jobs over the last 30 years and the financial crisis of 2008 took their toll on North County, turning those big-box stores into mega-churches, predatory payday-loan stores, and vacant, decaying malls. The predominantly white parts of West and South St. Louis County however, thrived. This story of decline isn’t unique to Ferguson, but the riots couldn’t have come at a worse time for local businesses and their employees who now head into the holidays jobless because of Monday’s mayhem.

Curtis Triggs, director of the St. Louis Business Center, a nonprofit that does business development for local small businesses, met with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s staff and investors about an economic plan for Ferguson last month. “Now after the riots, we’re back to ground zero.” Triggs also feared that Ferguson might not ever recover from the riots, just as communities hit by the 1992 L.A. riots have yet to recover, nearly 25 years later. He felt that the lack of economic engagement in Ferguson is responsible for the lack of political engagement that could make real change for local African-Americans. Triggs noted that while Ferguson still has some of its high-earning middle-class base, a large portion of its residents are low-income renters who only stay a year or two. As a result, they aren’t focusing on long-term issues such as improving the school system or changing the police force to one that better represents the racial makeup of the community.

While Fortune 500 companies such as Emerson Electric are returning to Ferguson, Triggs said it could be a Catch-22 for locals if Ferguson schools can’t provide a trained workforce ready to meet their needs. Ferguson and North County also can’t afford to lose out on joining St. Louis’s lesser-known startup renaissance as a path to long-term economic recovery. Venture capital research firm CB Insights said this month the city was the fastest growing region in the world for startups.

Rebuilding and reinvesting in Ferguson won’t magically fix the area’s social and racial fault lines overnight, but it will give teens like Mike Brown a real chance to succeed in the future. I just hope that the next time I come home, it won’t feel like Ferguson is standing at the brink.

Chip Goines is a former content developer for He is a software engineer at the Harvard Library and a freelance writer living in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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Copyright  © 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved

14 thoughts on “Coming home to Ferguson”

  1. Police need to be held accountable. If this can happen to a black teen, who isn’t an angel, getting a death penalty for stealing some cigarillos, consider the implications. What happens when the police decide that people of the wrong religion, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong political persuasion are considered fair game?

  2. Ferguson will never recover. The remaining parts of Ferguson that isn’t already a Ghetto (where the whites live), will flee. Watch for the for sale signs this spring. Once the whites are gone that part of Ferguson will also turn into a Ghetto very quickly.

  3. I agree Grandone. I believe that, like the man writing this article, the successful black youth from this town leave it as soon as they can. They want to see more than just black and white. The rest who stay have deep roots there and dont know anything else.

  4. Not all true about the voting. It’s predominantly white because few of the residents can read or write or pass the tests that are presented to them They can barely fill out an application. Would you really want someone to represent you if they can not pass the training or the exams? And seriously, do you want those exams to be changed so that Anyone can make the grade? Someone voted these people in and they had to live in the area.

  5. police brutality? hmmmm……who destroyed the town? i don’t think it was done with tear gas & rubber bullets…….

  6. From what I have read, Brown was going to attend a Vo-tech school. I used to teach in the Ferguson-Florissant school district. What I saw was that there WAS at least some opportunity for students that did at least ok in school, lots of colleges WANT to admit and give scholarships to minority students…but not a lot of students that wanted to do the work and who had fallen victim to the culture of it being “white” to succeed, which I find a racist statement in itself but heard it plenty of times from students towards other students that worked hard and did well. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. There must also be a culture shift within the black community for there to ever be a real difference made, and that culture shift can only come form within the black community. No one else can do it for them.

  7. Citizens voting has nothing to do with the police force. In my city whenever they hire officers, no matter how many eligible minorities apply you never see more than two hired out of the 18 ir 20 that are hired. It’s just that way and the police department can hire and fire as they choose. I do agree with City Council and Mayoral voting. Another thing I noticed is most times the city prosecutor and coroner run unoposed and judges are all political placements. If I lived in a place like Ferguson I’m sorry but I would have to leave.

  8. There was far more involved in the Ferguson Riots than just one mans death as we can all see now. This has been brewing for quite sometime and Browns death was just the ignition point.

    Prejudice and Discrimination? More like self pity and lack of drive on the Black communities part for its failures amongst themselves, and they fail to take responsibility for their own short comings.

    No matter the color, we all have the same struggles in life. Some work hard and pull themselves out of their struggles. But then there are others that prefer to blame someone else and strike out at them instead of working to better themselves for life.

    Ferguson Citizens can not blame anybody or people in civil service positions on their troubles, only themselves. Each rioter is guilty of their own actions, and must be held accountable.

    Maybe this will work for a better tomorrow for all of the citizens of Ferguson, We can only hope.

  9. Until blacks learn to to stop being slaves to the past, they will never move forward. Since Ferguson, I have been watching black people here in california. I live in a nice area. 50% white, and 50% black. I see black people walking on the strees next to the sidewalk. Never on the sidwalk. I know in the past, colored people were treated as 2nd class…force to walk in the street, leaving the sidewalks for white.
    I too am a writer…I take effort to see into people. Perhaps there is a hidden section in the brains of blacks, that are sticking to the old thinking of colored people. I am of the school: “You train others how to treat you.” Blacks train others how to treat them like colored people. You can’t get what you want by force, it turns others against you. The black race in America is about 27% 98% of the crime in America is done by black people. Have you not figgured out yet why the police pull you over? The results of Ferguson will effect the blacks in America for the next fifty years. Thos you follow, men like Al Sharpton, are not your friends…they are sucking the blood out of their own race for money. The black people will not move ahead until the crime stops…and only the blacks can stop the crime being done by blacks.

  10. Under Obama’s leadership we had this terror !
    The rioters of Ferguson who Micheal Browns step father incited to riot are pleased to announce they have looted and burned the following businesses which were directly responsible for the death of Michael Brown: St.Louis Fish & Chicken Grill, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, Beauty Mart, A.J. & R. Pawn Shop, Walgreens, FedEx, Cakes and More, JC Wireless, AT&T, STL Bread Company, Conoco, Auto Buy Credit, Phillips 66, McDonald’s, Red’s Barbecue, Taco Bell, CVS, Beauty Town, Little Caesar’s, Ferguson Liquor, Public Storage, Sam’s Meat Market, Medicine Shop, Commerce Bank, Auto Zone, Toys R Us, Amoco, Quiznos, Dellwood Market, Chop Suey restaurant, TitleMax, and Antonio French’s Heal Stl Community Center.
    Now all those have no job with Christmas coming and Louis Head said burn this #$%$ down!
    You can sign a petition online that has begun to have him prosecuted!
    Find it at petitionsite online!

  11. Chip,
    I wish you would have mentioned the need for the residents of Ferguson to participate in their government by voting. It is no accident that the City Council and Police Department are predominantly white. It is because blacks do not exercise their right to vote.
    That can help resolve the intensity of friction in Ferguson. The rest will take hard work on everyone’s part.

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