Ferguson Residents React to Dellwood Market Looting, Militarized Police Presence

Aug 18, 2014 at 9:21 am
click to enlarge The St. Louis County Police Department. - Ray Downs
Ray Downs
The St. Louis County Police Department.

Just a few hours before the Dellwood Market on Chambers Street in Ferguson was looted Sunday night, Lindsey Johnson was there to buy some groceries. When she saw people rushing in and out of the small store on Chambers Street with stolen goods in their arms, it hurt.

"We know the people who own that store," Johnson told Daily RFT. "We have relationships with them. They're good people."

The ransacking of the grocery store began around midnight, and reports say the place was also set on fire. Gunshots were fired, and a photo of a bullet lodged into the front door was shared on Twitter by KMOV (Channel 4) photographer Adam Randall.

After things settled down at the Chambers Street store, Johnson stood outside on the corner with several of her neighbors, talking about the looting, the protesting and the military-like police presence that has made Ferguson infamous.

"This is really tragic -- we shop at all these stores," said Craig Ruffin, 29. "I'm with the peaceful protesting. But this right here, this is not what we're about."

See all Riverfront Times coverage of Michael Brown and Ferguson.

Others nodded in agreement, but they also suspect that people from outside the neighborhood are responsible for the looting -- not Ferguson residents. A pickup truck with several young people inside was parked across the street, down from the Dellwood Market.

"See? They're waiting for the police to leave the store," Ruffin said. "They're not from here."

"There are a lot of opportunists running around trying to take advantage of what's been happening in Ferguson, but it's not people in Ferguson doing it," Johnson added. "Why would you ruin a store where you live and need to go shop at?"

Despite the suspicion that those guilty of the looting are mostly from out of town, this group of neighbors say that's almost beside the point because the real problem is a result of several decades of racial profiling.

"This all goes back 35 years," explains Carla Johnson, 64, who says her brother was killed by police in 1990.

"I've worked hard to teach my kids what to do, what not to do, to try and avoid getting harassed, but you can only do so much," she said. "The police departments here are old boys' clubs, but Ferguson is the worst of them."

Everyone nods. They all have stories of being stopped walking down the street, questioned for no apparent reason and especially about pulled over while driving.

"I always have my insurance up to date, my plates up to date," said Ruffin. "But I still get pulled over. I'd do that anyways because I'm supposed to, but especially because I know I'll get pulled over."

From across the street, a St. Louis County police officer guarding the Dellwood Market shined a blinding spotlight on the group of neighbors. He let it stay on them for several minutes.

Randolph Scott, 55, had to squint his eyes.

"Why is he doing that?" asked Scott, frustrated. "We're peaceful. We live here. I want to go over there and tell that officer that I'm on his side -- this looting needs to stop. But if I went over there, he might pull a gun on me."

As the group stood outside, several military vehicles carrying camouflage-clad police officers toting rifles rolled up and down Chambers Street.

"Now that's scary," said Karla Johnson. "That's just scary to have that in your own community. They don't need to have all that here."

Scott agreed. He understands police need to address a difficult situation and protect businesses at risk of looting, but says that the reaction has been exaggerated -- and he suspects it's because Ferguson has a predominantly black population.

"When they rioted over that hockey game and caused $4 million worth of damage, nobody cared," Scott said, referring to the riot that occurred after the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup Final loss to the Boston Bruins in 2011. "But here -- I don't think there's been $4 million worth of damage, and they send in the all this."

And the beefed-up police presence, complete with armored trucks, riot police, sound cannons, and tear gas nearly every night since protests began, is making matters worse, says Ruffin.

"They're shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd. That is not right. One day I had my daughter out there," said Ruffin, who has participated in peaceful protests on West Florissant this week. With reports of tear gas being fired into a crowd that has children in it Sunday night, he said he's worried his daughter could have been hurt.

"They don't know who's in that crowd," he said. "It's not right, and it's causing all of this. I don't know why they don't understand that. There are no problems [at protests] until police presence show up."

Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:

E-mail him at [email protected].