Native or foreign. Visiting or resident. Protesting or waiting for facts. There are two sides to every conflict, and in Ferguson there are more than two sides to a community in turmoil. They are more than just black or white, they are from Ferguson.
“I always figured Ferguson, Missouri, was known,” said Webster University senior education major Steward Styles. “But apparently nobody knew what Ferguson was.”
More than just black or white
Stiles has lived in Ferguson for seven years. His home is within walking distance from where the initial incident happened, and on the night of the first protests, tear gas flowed into his home. He lives with his parents — his father is a Pentacostal Minister and his mother comes from an army family — and was traveling home from Kansas City with them when Mike Brown was shot and killed. He experienced the initial misinformation that was being reported from his phone on the car ride home.
“Seeing all this stuff about Mike Brown and Ferguson, a 17 year old boy got shot, then it went to 21 then it went to 18, so there were a lot of different stories, so we were just trying to make sense of it all,” Stiles said.
Stiles had never had a bad run-in with the police, which is something he attributes to the way he was raised and the way he carries himself. This has made him feel disconnected form the black community in his life, but that did not stop him from attending protests. He said he preferred the organized protests at first, but went to where the incident happened and saw something that he did not see on TV.
“It was also a beautiful sight because you saw not only black faces there, but you saw other races there […] there were a multiplicity of nations that were there,” Stiles said. “And I think one of the things the cameras didn’t capture, they captured more a violent nature, but during the day if was so beautiful.
“You couldn’t tell me that this wasn’t a peace fest.”
Marybeth Rea is a white resident of Ferguson and lives there with her husband and two children. Living in a diverse community was important for Rea and her husband, and they believe that Ferguson is just that.
She said she has never felt uncomfortable because of her race while living in Ferguson. She feels it is a safe community but that has changed a little.
“There is a lot more tension in our community,” Rea said.
She said there is a protest across from the police station, but does not feel like they are a threat to her community or family.
Rea said she was concerned about people jumping to conclusion, and has not participated in any of the protests because she is still unsure of the facts.
“I don’t know what there is to protest, there is a system in place to bring justice to those who need it,” Rea said.
Foreign or native
Delmaine Eimann and her mother Annaly live in Ferguson with Delmaine’s two younger siblings. The Eimann family moved to Ferguson from Namibia, a country in the south-eastern part of Africa. They moved to the United States for schooling, Delmaine is a sophomore international studies major at Webster and Annaly is a student at the University of Missouri St. Louis.
The Eimann family has an “I love Ferguson” sign in their front yard, like so many others in the community, but Annaly said not everyone is supporting that cause.
“You can see [a racial divide], it is evident,” Annaly said. “My neighbor on the opposite, he is an African-American man but he doesn’t have the sign.”
Neither Delmaine nor Annaly were at home when the shooting occurred, but they have been following it on the news ever since. The rest of their family still lives in Namibia, but they have been following the story as well.
Delmaine said the shooting changed her way of life by taking her out of her routine and making her realize what is going on around her. She participated in one of the peaceful protests going on near her home, and is doing what she can to help. She feels that the shooting has not made the area more violent, and she hopes everyone will unite under the circumstances.
“It doesn’t really have to matter what race you are, or ethnic group or color of your skin because at the end of the day we are all just human,” Delmaine said. “And we are made to love people and love one another.”
Marcus Nikos is a junior advertising and marketing communications major at Webster. He was born in Ferguson and lived there until he was 11 years old, when his family moved and eventually settled in South St. Louis city. His grandfather and many of his friends still live in Ferguson, so Nikos makes the 30 minute drive frequently.
When he heard about the story, Nikos tried to figure out what he might have done to provoke the shooting.
“I know in the black community we have these codes of ethics that you live by, and we know as a people that blacks are not treated well and so there are certain things that you don’t do prevent certain things from happening like the Mike Brown incident.”
The incident has made Nikos think about that code, which includes what you keep in your car, how you dress and how you act, and he is realizing that it is not the right way to live.
“I know not that it’s ridiculous that we have to live that way,” Nikos said.
Nikos participated in some of the protests. He saw a lot of unity amongst the community, like bringing water and supplies for the protestors and inspiring each other to make a change, but he said the police did not like that. When they were told to leave, Nikos said the protestors were physically forced to move.
“Once they told us that we needed to leave, they started throwing things at us to make us go,” Nikos said.
He said one woman with the Black Panthers movement told the crowd to stay, but she was shot just moments later. After that, Nikos started running, and saw tear-gas canisters flying through the air. He said the experience was unlike any other.
“It sounds like an explosion, and it exploded in the sky,” Nikos said. “When it hit the ground, the ground shook, so I just started running and I didn’t look back.”
He eventually got to his car with the rest of his friends, and they began to drive through the streets, but the gas still flowed through the car.
His actions and the actions of so many others are a part of a struggle to improve life for the African-American community, and Nikos hopes that they can change the way black people have to live.
“Black people just get hurt with all of the negative connotations that are attributed to our community,” Nikos said, “and we’re fed up and were tired of and we don’t want white people to think that we are trying to exclude ourselves from society.
“We just want to be understood and we want to be included in society instead of being separate and being something that’s bad. We want to be celebrated and we want white people to stand in solidarity with us.”