Tug of war: The many layers of unrest in Ferguson

Journal columnistAugust 19, 2014 

So many layers, so little ink.

To thoroughly break down the events that have occurred in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and their ramifications, this space is insufficient.

What I can tell you is that I understand Ferguson. I know Ferguson. I was born and raised in south St. Louis, about 20 minutes from that tiny enclave in the northern suburbs of my hometown.

I spent a great deal of time in Ferguson as a 20-something, including an entire summer horsing around with a few friends in the Canfield Green apartment complex on Canfield Drive, site of the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old by a police officer — now an international news story.

A looted and burned-down corporate-owned convenience store/gas station has become the common gathering site for passionate protesters. I’ve been in that store through the years too many times to count.

To see the nightly destruction of Ferguson hurts my heart to the core. Tear gas, rubber bullets, police dogs, armored vehicles, automatic weapons, Molotov cocktail explosives. It all brings back images of civil unrest from the past.

It’s disheartening to witness antagonistic sorts taunting law enforcement officials to incite chaos.

Having grown up near there, I understand the underlying tension that has played out in front of the world. However, the looting and rioting add another element to the situation that I detest. The few who have found an excuse to brazenly steal and destroy take away from the efforts of peaceful protesters. My hope is that those willfully breaking the law face the consequences of their actions through diligent police work.

Some of those peaceful protesters on the front line are my contemporaries, people I’ve known for years. Some I’ve studied and played with as school children, and others I’ve hung out with as adults. They relay to me the power of change they sense in the area. The looters play only a bit part of a bigger movement, they tell me.

Change is coming, they say. History is in the making, they believe. “Justice will be served” is their calling card.

So many layers, so little ink.

The advent of digital and social media and the proliferation of bloggers and pundits have brought the situation in Ferguson to the front of not only America’s psyche, but the world’s as well. What started as a major local story soon spread regionally before garnering national headlines. Now it’s gone international. Traditional media – print, television and radio – have added layers to the story as well.

I shuddered when I heard about or saw photos of fellow journalists threatened and arrested by law enforcement and/or assaulted by unruly roughnecks disguised as protesters. Those images sickened me.

Couple that with the aggressive crowd control approach toward peaceful protesters and it’s easy to feel uneasy. No matter what opinions one has formed, nor what side of the fence one sits on, this is the United States of America. We have an unalienable right to peaceful assembly and freedom of the press. I am a proponent for those rights.

To see those rights trampled should put us all on high alert.

So many layers, so little ink.

There is a history of discord between young people and not only law enforcement throughout the country, but authority in general. It stems from a lack of communication, understanding and, to a larger degree, sensitivity to each other’s role in a democratic society. The adversarial relationship we see playing out is basically that: a lack of communication, trust and understanding developed over years and passed down from multiple generations on both sides of the fence.

So many layers, so little ink.

A lot of lessons can be gleaned from the turmoil in Ferguson. In the end, we are Americans. We believe in and protect our constitutional rights. As Americans, we should all be concerned about what has transpired there: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Although I am not there with boots on the ground, I personally know people who are: friends, journalism colleagues and bloggers alike. What I’ve witnessed through their various channels of dissemination has been an overwhelming support and togetherness that I’ve never seen in St. Louis or its neighboring suburbs.

What’s happening in Ferguson could become a microcosm of what is possible across the country.

My hope is that Ferguson opens our collective hearts and minds to each other. Then, and only then, can we truly peel off the layers of distrust and reconcile as a nation.


Toriano Porter is the business and education reporter for the Lee’s Summit Journal.

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