It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard; it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. – Christopher Hitchens
For weeks and months I have been fretting how I am going to write about Ferguson, Mo. I didn’t want to get it wrong. And now I have to get it out. The problem is so ugly I can barely stand to look at it. Freud says we tell ourselves lies all the time to get through the day. The lie–––the pain of seeing the lie right in the face and helpless to do anything about it. The reason for Micheal Brown’s shooting: apathy by the community surrounding Ferguson. In any community there is a responsibility to uphold standards and when the standards aren’t met it is not your community anymore. Does St. Louis bare responsibility to its subparts? What happens when a culture of a given area makes itself alien to apart of itself? I think this problem invokes at its heart inequality. But of the broader outlook, not just that a police officer shot someone in your community, rather a kid being shot in your community would be a symptom of your inhabitance, not the root of the problem. Which would be that your community at large has forgotten about you, but you will remain. You will remain completely aware of those that look at you. Who have no idea of the type of person you are or the type community that surrounds you because they do not share in your community. And you, as it were, do not share in there’s. The protesters themselves, the good ones are able to police the protest for bad ones–––the social deviants; the ones whose real crime was that they’ve been pushed too far; we punish those who’ve been punished; what is now, distinctly American.
I wake up at the dawn, my dirty pale blinds reached open between to rays of sunlight. Dim light and hot air fill the bedroom. The morning has always been unpleasant for me. Waking in a daze and dread its cheerful tone all the more. I’m not cheerful. I hate the morning: it’s a bastard of middle-age and weighty proportions that greets with its false teeth, terrible grin; the old Nixon has been exchanged for a new one, one of equally il repute of at least the moment for repugnant patronizing. He’s a bastard because what he does well is to act like he cares. A curfew had just been put in place by him; I wonder if the dichotomy between riot and protest came up at all. If he really does care he has one of the most unconflicted visages I’ve ever seen.
I felt ambivalent both eager to experience a crux of St. Louis’ history and sick; don’t let those bastards say otherwise––this is history. If it’s marked for good or ill at least it’s marked and there can be no denying that it happened. The wood floor in my apartment is warm on my feet. My feet walk through the bedroom door into the hallway toward the kitchen next to the fridge. I stand in front of the fridge in my boxers the cool fog air rolls passed my legs. I rummage for something. There’s nothing. I never have any food in my fridge. I walk back to my bed and fall in. I’ll wake up when I feel like it.
I miss waking at dawn. I wake at eight, instead of six because it’s hard, too hard for me to wake up at an early time. I hope this is the extent of my apathy. I throw on a pair of jeans
“This looks nice.”
and a shirt nice enough for people to take me seriously for interviews. Three hours is the drive from Springfield to St. Louis. I pass mile marker 150, half way there, and why am I wearing this shirt. I arrive in St. Louis the dashboard reads 11:13. I make it to diner next to a Lambert Airport by noon. I would already be at my destination but I am too smug with the g.p.s. The airport-diner sits well for the moment. I go into the bathroom to relieve myself of coffee and energy drinks. I walk in and close the stall door behind me. I feel like I am about to be unleashed on something, hop on a plane and never look back from where I was. But I’m not, I’m going further into barbarism. St. Louis, if you’re not from there be wary. It is one the hardest places to trust people––or rather it’s the trustworthy looking people that you have to be wary of. It is a hard place for people to trust each other. Flush the toilet behind me and out the door I walk to my truck waving “Ga day!” to the sad waitresses and cooks with crooked eyes and underbites. St. Louis is miserable, I pause in the parking lot, the black top is reflecting hard dry heat at me, but the air above my ankles makes skin sweat. The kind of sweat where jeans are fitting tighter and more moist than usual.
I reacquaint myself with the GPS. The white truck low to the ground streamlines down the highway to Florissant. The professor lives in Florissant and teaches at the community college in Florissant, or Flo-valley as it’s called. I arrive at approximately one in the afternoon. I lift my book-bag out of my truck and sling it over my shoulders. I see from my truck that there are roofers strewn in and out of the house and on the lawn. I walk over the shingles and grass up to the door.
The professor, my uncle, walks up to the door, “Hey Buddy. How ya doing?”
“I’m doing okay.”
“Are you having work done on the house?”
“I’m getting a new roof. Do you remember the storm that hit?”
“Yes,” I shake my head. “Do you want to get lunch?”
“I can’t go until these guys finish. Do you want me to put in a pizza?”
I sit on the sofa watching the news. There’s workers walking in and out of the house. One roughed looking one stops. He’s noticeably more apt to give his opinion than any of the other workers. His black eyes look right at me through his yellow lensed work-goggles.
“You know there just gonna…” he seems ready to heavily militate to some spooned political response, “making a big deal out of this.” I’m surprised he’s seems more cautious to give a point than I expect.
“Yes, but it kind of seems to be a big deal…at least to the people in Ferguson. There’s a responsibility for law enforcement to handle the situations.”
He looks at the T.V. “Yeah who knows.” he walks down the hall, up the ladder and into to the roof. My uncle comes in from the kitchen and sits and then looks at me.
“Hey you gotta be careful the way you talk to people.”
I’m confused, “Why?”
“Because when you talk to the people who are working on your roof, you don’t want them to be pissed at you.”
“Oh…okay.” I slum into the couch. My uncle turns the T.V. to Governor Jay Nixon at a press conference. He looks at Nixon and says, “He’s a great politician, isn’t he.” Nixon at every opportunity to speak genuinely or even sympathetically, is resting on platitudes, “We are handling the situation the best we can…Every precaution is being taken…an investigation of Darren Wilson is being conducted.” The pudgey politician knows the situation is too delicate to give his own opinion. I’m afraid if we heard his own real opinion it would send everyone into a panic. Not to mention the mayor of Ferguson who points to being an example of a fundamental problem. From the look of him on the T.V. he is dressed in a polo. His hair is cut in military crew cut. He’s not in the military he seems to be the least disposed to make order out of disorderly situation. What they don’t tell the mayor’s who get crew cuts, is the haircut comes with a complementary stick in your ass. The men in charge simply do not care. Ferguson’s first line of defense, for a community in peaceful protest, was responded with men with guns, sniper rifles, batons, riot shields, SWAT trucks, tear gas and apathy.
I turn to my uncle, “where are the protests being held?”
“Down by West Florissant. Do you know how to get there?”
“Yeah I’ll look it up on my phone.”
I hop in my car shut the door and drive down the road, five miles from my uncle’s, till the street turns to an intersection; one of the streets is marked W. Florissant. I make a right onto W. Florissant. I saw on the T.V. the protests were at burned down gas station, called Q.T. I drive my truck passing by the only Q.T. I see on the road a Q.T. and there are only a few cars. Not enough, not nearly enough for a protest. I keep driving until the street ends. I pull out my phone from my jeans and look up all the Q.T’s on W. Florissant. I turn the truck around from the end of W. Florissant and continue to drive in the opposite direction till traffic starts to become slower. More and more cars clogging the street moving at a slow pace. Up ahead I hear cornettos of car-horns. The closer I get the more I can hear the disparate vocals.
I drift past people protesting on in West Florissant’s concrete valley; people are protesting under the gas pump ceiling; people are protesting next to tents and booths set up by journalist that fortify the perimeter of the gas station; people are protesting across the street next to a storage locker facility; I drift past people protesting in the street, on the street, on sidewalks. Everywhere is filled with people and cars. No room to move anywhere. It’s like ants in a fissure. I pull next to a strip mall and park down the street from the burned-down gas station.
I gather my book-bag, pull out a note pad to look professional. I walk to the Q.T. People are crowding a journalist with a camera-crew. Everyone’s displaying the emotion and body-language they take to be most appropriate. One black man is shouting in anger condemning white people, we lock eyes for a brief moment, “Everyone knows this is a black and white issue.” A man from another group preaches to his adherents “the only way were gonna get out of this…is if we all get along.”
I work up the courage to talk to a girl of one disbanded group by the majority of protesters. She told me she had been maced and had gone into the very gas station that stands behind her and Darren Wilson was there and refused to let her wash her eyes. I ask one of the gentlemen that stood in a group with her if they know where Micheal Brown was shot.
“Go on up half a block and make a left. Then keep walking you can’t miss it.”
I take the man’s advice. I walk until I meet the street I have to turn on. There’s group of three walking in the same direction I’m in.
“Do you know where Micheal Brown was shot? I’m Nick by the way.”
“I’m Candice, this is Marquis and Fred.”
I shake each of their hands. “Nice to meet you…Nice to meet you.”
We walk to where Micheal Brown was shot. Candles, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, occupy a burgundy shade of concrete. Candice tells me she’s heard of a few people that have footage of the shooting, but they’re afraid to come forward.
Minutes after looking at the place where Micheal Brown died I start to feel like water poured on the hot St. Louis sidewalk. All of my sense seem to be very aware. I feel an increase in my own occupation of thoughts. If you don’t know what I mean then there’s no sense in saying anything about it. Candice comes to me and says they’re are going to walk to the gas station Micheal Brown allegedly robbed.
The ground with each step to the convenient store seems to be inviting me to sit down indian style or meld into the unkempt grass of neighborhood lawns. I keep time of our pace because as Candice tells me it took him twelve minutes for Micheal Brown to walk from the convenient store to the last time he ever will stand. My feet push off the ground walking in a delicate stride into the parking lot. Multiples of squad cars and SUVs align parking spots. Two officers are posted like beefeaters at the door. I walk past them to more police who now are watching for every twitch of plain movement. I can feel the eyes of twelve police watch as I walk cautiously to a soda I spot in a B-line path.
– Are they watching me? Do they know? Just walk straight. Walk Straight! Don’t look. Act natural. Stay focused. Keep walking. Don’t look. Open the refrigerator. Grab the orange soda. Close the door. I looked. Oh no! Put your notepad on the counter.
“Anything else sir?”
“NO, that’s it. Here ya go.” I hand the clerk my debit card and hands it back to me, the transaction seems unusually quick. “Thanks.”
“Have a good day.”
I walk back out onto the parking lot. The guards are still standing by the doors. And we head over near my truck. Candice’s car is parked on a decline that feeds into the streets. The car is parked idly as the cars are parked. In either direction there are cops on the streets. The missouri state highway patrol is interacting peacefully with protesters because Ferguson’s own, which is predominately white, could not handle the situation appropriately.
We sit in between Candice’s car and another van. Candice is sitting in the driver side seat the driver door is flaring-out. Everybody is standing around talking, I am dispatched to a concentric reality of two feet. In a few moments we will all be dispatched to a concentric reality of two feet–––maybe few more feet for some. We all start to feel good. The cars are still buzzing back and forth, down and up the street in front of us.
Marquis starts to talk to me. I’m just trying to keep my composure with my butt on the ground and my palms digging into hot blacktop. Candice tells me she has to drop off Fred.
“Do you want to come with us?”
We drive to Fred’s house which seems far from W. Florissant. Candice turns to me and asks, “are you hungry?” I snap out of daze from the window, “uh, Ya.”
She looks at me, “where do you want to go?”
“I don’t care wherever you want to go?”
We drive through neighborhoods. Houses and houses are past. Sidewalks with grass sprouting through cracks. The area begins to look familiar. Delmar Boulevard is getting close. I point them in a direction to park. Candice and Marquis try to convince that Korean Taco is a great place.
We eat our tacos till dusk starts. The taco calms me down. We walk on and walk in an ice cream store. I get ice cream, they get ice creams. I stop and look up, theres a hotel with giant moon rotating at the steeple. I look to them and say, “I always wanted to go up there.”
“Sure” they say.
We walk in. By the time we reach the top it’s nearly night. The city lights and arch illuminate a sky-scape. We drink and laugh together. I can tell at that moment as we look at the night swallowing whole the auspicious lights; stars start the slow twinkle trail up from half-hid blue sky basin. All there is around black night and light. And we stand on top of what is this part of the world.
Candice drives me back to my truck. Marquis, Candice and me get our pictures taken to commemorate the day. The good-byes are too quick!
I drive through the night back to Springfield. I start gagging and feeling nauseous, the truck rolling on. Engines burning gas down forty-four. The headlights illuminate the road.
I roll down the window so it doesn’t get everywhere. Why do I feel this way?
I focus down the road. The road and thoughts scroll along dimly. My thoughts, the road all leading back to Ferguson right now.
-The communities all have there own sense of justice. Missouri is estranged from itself as I am from you. Missouri I know you’re good at heart, but you say some stupid, shit. I’m tired. So tired of your preaching of, quoting of, things that you don’t care––– ah I realize though, “why would you?” You have no relationship to yourself except for your fortified fortresses, your problems are a slow poison that seep in at your sides. Your apathy is my apathy both of you and the things you feign to care about. You’re unaware of this. You grew up with it your whole life. Missouri you make me sad when you look at me, “Things are as they are.” There’s no question about that. It seems so odd. The word change is pervasive nowadays. But you seem to have no sense in reaching out and grabbing it. Or if you did you would probably reach for the muddled kind. The kind representative form of the word change referring to making things different i.e. social structure, living conditions, quality of life, at the very least education. But I know why your afraid. Education––– those who have it undeniably feel empowered by it and indeed draw power from it. Missouri how deep do your reservoirs run? In the crescent spectral city staggered between the two muddy rivers––Missouri and Mississippi?
I went to Ferguson because I felt I needed to be there. In 1969 you can be anywhere and in the right place for history. In those places there is so much freedom, so much progress because of progress in the civil rights act, and for a moment the world had the momentum to unclench its fists from all the hatred and bigotry. There was more openness to communicate, now all there is close social loops of communication (due in no small part to social media). No openness.