Just days before a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury elected not to indict a white police officer for shooting, killing, and leaving the body of an unarmed black teenager in the street for four hours, business owners along the now infamous West Florissant — a strip of road perpendicular to the street Michael Brown Jr. was killed on — boarded up their storefronts with thin plywood spray painted with blue, red, or black lettering stating they were open.
The streets were quiet. The snow that had fallen just a week before officer Darren Wilson’s non-indictment still clung to the Ferguson streets — a stark difference from the August scene of tear gas billowing down the roads, protesters planted on the ground protecting their eyes from the fumes.
Only a newly formed neighborhood watch — a group of young men patrolling the streets to let the Ferguson police cruising the neighborhood know they were on surveillance — were present. Just that watch group, on their bikes and radios, and business owners — a handful of individuals who slip in and out of their stores, waiting for life to return to West Florrisant.
There was Dellena Jones, a beautician working at 911 Hair Salon who decided to board up her windows after they were smashed in August shortly after Brown’s death. Jones’ children were inside the shop when the protests began. This time, she wasn’t taking any chances, no matter what message boarded up windows gave the town now marred forever with the stain of police brutality.
“I have a different feeling as far as putting boards up,” Jones said.
The boards, she said, weren’t the reason for the loss of business in the past three months. The protests and police, she said, made it uncomfortable for customers to travel to the area.
“Service businesses are hurting,” she said.
Jones spoke little of Brown’s death and her view on the incident, but her neighbor, insurance provider Dan McMullen, told GlobalGrind how he really felt about the protests that erupted after Brown’s death.
McMullen’s business, Solo Insurance, was also damaged in the wave of vandalism, albeit a small amount, that washed over the Ferguson area in August. He pointed out the red bricks thrown through his windows, remarked on the loss of business and offered his view on the shooting, quick to point out he didn’t quite understand why residents were demonstrating.
“In 2014 you really think that happened?” the self-proclaimed pro-cop supporter said about witness statements that the unarmed teenager had his hands in the air when shot. “I don’t care if somebody said they saw it. You really think in 2014 this police man is driving down the street, saw two kids walking in the middle of the street, didn’t like it, got out of his car, and shot them dead? I just don’t think so.”
“Not in my wildest dreams, not in 2014 in the United States of America.”
But Sonny Dayan, the owner of a cell phone shop also known as a hub for residents to come and talk about current events, bond, and vent about injustice, doesn’t see things quite the same. Dayan, who decided not to board up his store before the non-indictment, felt that such a move would abandon the community. Dayan was clear — his store is the community.
“Being around and talking to folks from the neighborhood, we feel this time around it will be more secure,” Dayan said just days before the non-indictment announcement.
“We wanted to show that we trust the neighborhood first of all, and we feel that we’re part of the neighborhood and because of that, we didn’t want to send a message that we’re just going to block up and close the shop…we wanted to be visual, we wanted to be out there to show people that we are part of the community. We want to move on.”
As for standing in solidarity with the community instead of chastising them for the few individuals who broke windows, looted, and set fires in August?
“We are part of the community,” Dayan said.
Check out the video above to see the divide between business owners and what the climate was like in Ferguson before the non-indictment.