The crowd had gathered at the QuickTrip to begin its march down West Florissant Avenue. Just before it had left, gunshots had been reported near the QT parking lot. But up until that point, the night — like every other — had been peaceful. For the past eight days, life before midnight in Ferguson was a (mostly) well-behaved block party: people cooked sausage, chicken, or hot dogs on charcoal grills for anyone who wanted them. There was music, constantly, too. Hip hop bursted from car stereos, while others had bluetooth speakers in their pockets and raised above their heads or balanced on their motorcycles. There was also a man playing a live drum set, popping up in different locations of the QuickTrip parking lot — the unofficial gathering place locals dubbed “Ground Zero” — throughout the night. People danced, and chanted and most of the crowd was upbeat, despite all its frustrations.
Those same people made up the crowd that marched down West Florissant, and it was those same people who, at approximately 8:30 last night, became targets. Cops started launching tear gas into the 100 or so marchers because, as they would state later in a 1AM press conference, violence was roiling.
This stretch of West Florissant had been a safe zone during the day and even into the early evening, safe enough for kids. Yes, it’s true that late at night those who want to incite a riot — the outliers — would assemble at the QT to plot trouble and, essentially, pledge martyrdom in a war against these cops — or all cops — depending on who’s talking the loudest. And yes there had been gunshots, but people had reassembled and kept it moving. It wasn’t even completely dark when the cops started teargassing last night’s crowd. The cops said they were provoked, that they felt threatened, but they said that well after midnight during a press conference.
I began to walk down West Florissant to see what was happening. I saw people running toward me, toward the QuickTrip. A woman with a confused, dazed look approached and yelled: “It’s not even curfew yet! How could they do this? I’ve got my kids in there.”
She has been part of the group marching down West Florissant, one of hundreds who have been protesting every day since Mike Brown was killed on August 9.
The woman stopped me. “Capture this, get this. The world needs to see this. They are gassing our kids!”
A pair of people approached, a man and woman, sweaty and rattled. “Get this picture! Take my picture!”
The man had his shirt over his mouth. They both wanted this documented.
Another man had a young daughter, an infant, really, in his arms. He said he got gassed bit and that “the baby almost got it.”
The confused crowd began to quickly walk away and then started running when the second round of tear gas shells began to fall. There were too many swoosh swoosh swooshes to count, but it was a relentless barrage. Flash bombs soon followed.
There were no routes to clean air except back toward the QuickTrip. The police had blocked all the paths to safe air, behind the buildings. A cylinder of space, just one path in which you had to gauge whether you could outrun teargas shells, but many could not and were hit by them.
A younger man, in his late teens or early 20s, approached some of the cops who were blocking an alley and began to wail. “Kids, man. How could you do this to kids? They are kids in there how could you do this?”
(Photos: Amy K. Nelson/ANIMALNewYork)