St. Louis Gateway Arch downtown background

On the ground: Ferguson is an uprising, not a riot

Ferguson Riots? No- I experienced an uprising, not a riot.

Despite the fact that I spent the weekend in St. Louis, I was figuratively as far away from the Ferguson protests as one could get. A long-time friend was visiting and she treated me to a ridiculously indulgent spa day at the Four Seasons in downtown St. Louis. I would be hard-pressed to have been at a venue more divergent from what is going on in my community than the extremely posh spa with beautiful views of the Arch.

St. Louis Gateway Arch downtown background

We drove through Ferguson Saturday on our way downtown to get a sense of what’s happening just miles from where I live. The rain deterred many protesters on W. Florrisant Ave. that morning. We saw about two dozen or so folks. They congregated under the gas station canopy in front of the now infamous vandalized, burned-out QuikTrip. Instead of torches, they held brooms.

My friend and I drove in silent disbelief. McDonald’s where Huff Po reporter Ryan Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were arrested last week looked oddly ordinary. The area was peaceful. It didn’t look like a war zone or a scene of chaos as portrayed by media. Granted, Ferguson in the day doesn’t look like Ferguson at night. They are two different worlds. By day, concerned residents clean up debris from the night before. By night, a precious few take advantage of a broken, grieving community by inciting violence, prompting some to decry the scene as “Ferguson Riots.”

on the ground in ferguson

Ferguson mourning, not looting

I’ve read stories about the Revolution Club from Chicago and the New Black Panther Party traveling to Ferguson. Some accuse the organizations of trying to co-opt the spotlight. You would hope we all had the same objective, that the spotlight should be shining in one place- upon the death of a young black man. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if the Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson lives in a predominately white neighborhood any more than it matters if Michael Brown was headed to vocational college. Most agree the looting and rioting must stop, but we can’t let the actions of a few stop the real message from emerging.

Cleaning up QT after Ferguson uprising
Credit: STL Today

I don’t see no Ferguson riots here

I devoured as much news as I could cram into the hour before we arrived at the spa and told myself that I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t unplug from the events in Ferguson for a few hours. It always feels decadent to get a massage, but it felt especially so this time. Given what is going on, perverse, even. My friend swung for a birthday package for both of us so we walked around the spa as birthday impostors with silly matching Birthday Girl robes. I tried to keep my mind silent and my conversation polite. I told wealthy lounging couples in the relaxation area we were celebrating Madonna’s birthday, not our own. The Material Girl turned 56 Saturday. Who knew? I couldn’t quiet my mind. Note to self before next massage: must learn meditation. Because relaxation.

white robes with birthday girl spa day

By the time I climbed into the undulating barc-o-lounger for a pedicure, I was about to burst. I couldn’t help myself and asked the nail aesthetician if anyone had been talking about the events in Ferguson. She said, “Not really. It’s a little awkward with staff at the front of the house versus the back of the house.” I assume she meant the white staff versus the black staff, but I didn’t probe further. The spa staff was diverse. The clientele was not. The tech already knew I was a deviant by my choice of green nail polish. Still, the lack of conversation made me sad. I hoped it wasn’t true.

I want to talk about Ferguson. We should be talking about Ferguson in every part of St. Louis. Every nook and cranny. Protests are happening in our city, to our people, to all of us. It’s happening here because it has to happen. We all have a stake in equality, justice, peace and decency regardless of our politics, skin color, gender or socio-economic status.

So, let’s talk about Ferguson.

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  1. V

    Really appreciate this one Jen. I wish there was a way to effectively let the real people of Ferguson, the people grieving the killing of one of their own; the people that have systematically been discriminated against throughout St. Louis history, know that there exists a large group of white people that really care about this and really want to find ways to make this a pivotal point in history, where things legitimately start to get better for them. I want to stand with them, show them my concern and help them on there path to better living in St. Louis. I don’t know how to wisely do it yet, but hopefully I will figure it out soon.

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