North St. Louis County, MO - As Ferguson and the surrounding communities begin to take the first steps toward healing as a community after the shocking death of 18-year-old Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen, earlier this month, residents, watchers and the media alike are letting their opinions be known.
"Neighbors were horrified by the gruesome scene: Mr. Brown, 18, face down in the middle of the street, blood streaming from his head," reports the New York Times of that awful day. "They ushered their children into rooms that faced away from Canfield Drive. They called friends and local news stations to tell them what had happened. They posted on Twitter and Facebook and recorded shaky cellphone videos that would soon make their way to the national news."
For most people in the world, this scene in Ferguson is far away from home, just a concept rather than a hometown. But for some, it's a place where they shop and live and work.
While it's fair to say that the racial issues aren't unique to Ferguson, it's Ferguson and St. Louis that are in the spotlight right now. And while everybody and their brother seems to have something to say about this issue, what are the residents of St. Louis County really thinking? What are they really saying?
Ferguson and North St. Louis County are under an international microscope today as everyone watches to see what will happen next. Between the local, national and international coverage, along with all of the independent coverage, many people have taken a side.
Even the L.A. Times has published some rather one-sided statistics about Ferguson.
"Ferguson’s police chief and mayor are white. Of the six City Council members, one is black. The local school board has six white members and one Latino. Of the 53 commissioned officers on the police force, three are black, said Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
Blacks in Ferguson are twice as likely to be stopped by police as whites, according to an annual report on racial profiling by the Missouri attorney general. Last year, 93% of arrests following car stops in Ferguson were of blacks. Ninety-two percent of searches and 80% of car stops involved blacks, the report said."
Where St. Louis County stands on Ferguson, Brown
Three Mindsets to Consider
Among the locals, there seem to be three primary mindsets about the situation. While there are those who are likely just enjoying the chaos or publicity, most residents have a genuine interest in the case, and on the most basic levels, their opinions look like this.
Unarmed black youth killed by white cop. Justice must be served. Period.
Some residents of both black and white heritage are of the opinion that no matter what happened before the shooting, the shooting was not justified because Michael Brown was not armed.
Lucas Jackson, a St. Louis County resident who happens to be white, is one of them.
"The issue should be why did a cop have to shoot an unarmed suspect 6 times? Do police normally shoot to kill?" Jackson said. "I mean, you can't really come back from a shot to the head. Didn't he have a taser or mace?"
"It seems there is a training issue here," Jackson continued. "Not just in Ferguson but throughout the country. I don't want to turn the officer or Michael Brown into a villain. I'm sure that officer will replay this situation for the rest of his life and think about what he could have done different. I can't imagine it's easy to take a life even when you think it's justified."
South County resident Karen Hampton called the Ferguson situation "one of the biggest tragedies to strike this region in years."
"I and others hope we as a city can move forward and decrease bitching and fearing," Hampton said. "But since it happened, at least the awareness of the nation was changed."
300-pound, 6-foot tall teenager bum-rushes police officer after forcibly robbing store and trying to take away the officer's gun.
While many people were initially on the side of those mentioned above, some jumped ship when additional details came out about Darren Wilson, the officer who shot the boy, and his side of the story. It started with the fact that Brown allegedly committed a "strong arm robbery" just before his death.
"They released a video of victim strong arm robbing a store and the family called it 'character assassination,'" said Ferguson resident Joe Morris.
Many county residents, like Christy Stahlman, say they want to reserve judgment, but the case seems to speak for itself.
"I'm trying to stay open-minded but the more I watch and listen, the more I keep hearing against Mr. Brown," Stahlman said. "Even Mr Brown's friend said that they robbed the store, and now I've seen a video that he agrees 'Big Mike' was beating up the cop."
She added: "I've also read a letter from another young man supposedly from his 'hood' talking about how aggressive and abusive he is. If even HALF of that is true I can understand why the cop would perceive a threat early into this (past run ins -- I've head he also had a history). More than anything else though for my own peace of mind I have to believe the police would not be so callous and ambivalent with the loss of a life, no matter what color."
Jim Schramm, who lives in Ferguson, agreed, noting that "in training the words 'wound"'and 'kill' don't even come up."
"In a split second situation, most people who carry a weapon will do the same thing," Schramm said. "Aim for center of mass and keep shooting until you are no longer in danger. When it comes down to it, any altercation involving a weapon is a 'my life or theirs' choice."
"God forbid that anyone innocent ever find themselves in that situation, but if they do I hope they do exactly what they are taught to do, and then go home alive to their families and deal with the aftermath," he continued. " And before 'unarmed' comes up again, 6'4" and almost 300 lbs is definitely enough to put you in serious danger of being injured or killed."
We won't know what the truth is until the investigation is complete.
Many people, including West St. Louis County resident and journalist Drew Selman, say they're reserving judgment until the case is closed.
"I don't have an opinion just yet. Lots of nuance and assumption still in this story," Selman said. " I was trained in school and on the beat to look for the more plausible story. Said a million different ways, when you hear hoof-beats, think horses, not zebras."
Hazelwood resident Emily Endres agreed, saying she believes that the case remains up in the air for now.
"I think we don't have the facts so let the grand jury do their job," she said. "Then ask after the facts are in."
"There is evidence out there, I just don't think its nearly as clean cut a circumstance as protesters would have you think," Selman added. "Ask which is more plausible - a 6-year decorated cop without a blemish or hint of racism on the job killed a kid just because he was in the middle of the street or a 6-year decorated cop was attacked by a big kid and was being rushed by the same kid who would likely kill him if he got close."
St. Charles County resident Bridget Blair agreed, saying she was "undecided at this point," and noting that there have been "so many mainstream media lies" in this case.
Blair continued to say that there were "so many view points (in the situation). I'll say my stand has yet to be determined."
She added: "All the racism, militarization, looting, rioting and blood shed is heart breaking and disturbing on so many levels."
Uncensored Voices on the Ferguson Struggle: Is it about race?
While many inside and outside of the community are saying that race is clearly the problem, others say race isn't the issue at all.
"I find it very disappointing that so many are crying racism while spewing nothing but racism," said Stephanie Dierberg, who lives outside of South County. "I'm also disappointed that Mr. Brown was portrayed as such an upstanding young man and as the facts to the contrary started coming out, those professing his sainthood refused to admit and acknowledge that there's a good possibility that Mr. Brown may have been in the wrong on many levels."
Others, like Kirkwood resident Linda Austin, say that the danger is in jumping to conclusions, pointing to the fact that we don't know the full story yet.
"I don't know how anyone can even have an opinion yet without hearing all the details," Austin said. "Scary how people so easily jump to conclusions and then have tunnel vision. Only thing more scary is the police response in the earlier days and how much control media has over sheep-like masses."
Tabitha Hampton, a young professional woman who graduated both high school and college in St. Louis County's University City, is among those who don't see racism as the issue here.
"I know that many people are using recent events to demonstrate how racism is still a major issue in this country, and I won't dispute that, but there socio-economic disparity is also a very prevalent issue for all races," Hampton posted on her Facebook page. "I hate that this is turning into a black vs. white issue. What if the officer had been black? Would the reaction have been the same? What if the turn of events had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the fact that the officer was just a trigger-happy asshole who woke up on the wrong side of the bed?"
Hampton went on to add that not every "white" person is a racist, "just like there are lots of 'black' people who are."
"Let's keep the focus on justice for THIS boy and the unjust loss of a HUMAN life, and use this as an opportunity to learn and grow together as a society," she continued. "You can't vilify an entire group of people by their profession, race, class or lack of understanding for your experiences."
In regard to Ferguson specifically, Hampton said, "That community and this country needs healing, not vigilante 'justice' acts of violence and crime. And law enforcement needs to respect the rights of citizens and journalists to assemble and document what's going on. They should not be taking a militant stance against those who are peacefully protesting for justice. There is a lot of hate at ground zero and both vigilantes and over-reactive law enforcement are two sides of the same coin."
Read More About What the Ferguson and St. Louis County communities say: What About the Robbery That Brown Was Allegedly Involved In Just Prior to His Death?