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Latecomers Bring Fresh Outrage To Weary Ferguson

Demonstrators march towards the Ferguson Police Department on Friday to protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Adrees Latif
Reuters /Landov
Demonstrators march towards the Ferguson Police Department on Friday to protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

It's been two weeks since Michael Brown was shot, and things on Ferguson's West Florissant Avenue have calmed down a lot. The street has a festive feel, like a county fair or a town square in the old days. Locals sit on lawn chairs, kids are out on their bikes, a BBQ truck belches sweet smoke, and people watch the core group of protestors — 15 people or so — walking their block-long circuit, chanting, "Hands up! Don't Shoot!"

What you notice is that the loudest voices now belong to the most recent arrivals. White and black, they continue to arrive from around the country, looking to find the Ferguson revolution they saw on the livestreams.

Last night, one such group, with matching revolutionary-themed t-shirts, brought a bullhorn and a wordy chant: "Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell." The chant failed to spread; locals may be getting a little tired of chanting.

"There's a lot of people from outside the community, here," says Ferguson's young white mayor, James Knowles. He gained his share of notoriety during the height of the protests, especially after he was quoted as saying there was no racial divide in his city. He's learned to become more circumspect about what he says to reporters.

"At first it was really difficult to understand [why so many outsiders came to Ferguson]," he says. "But now I realize it's a national issue ... and we're proud to start the discussion, we're proud hopefully to come up with some answers ... and hopefully we won't see this again — not in Ferguson, not in any city in the nation."

But Knowles is still learning the hard way that he has to watch his words. On Saturday afternoon, he stopped outside the McDonald's on West Florissant and chatted with a couple of his constituents, two African-American women, and they shared war stories about the worst of the violence, a week ago.

Knowles said something jokey about looking out the window in the middle of the night and seeing "gremlins" moving through his yard. The women he was talking to seemed to appreciate the humor, but the comment set off a young African-American woman who was listening in.

"When you just referred to people as 'gremlins,' there is no funny stuff!" she yelled, getting right up in his face. She told the mayor she came from Brooklyn a week ago, and had no plans to leave. "I bought a one-way ticket and I will be here indefinitely until you hear the voice of these people!"

As soon as she confronted him, more people gathered, and the smart phones came out to record the proceedings. Knowles tried a few disarming words, then sought refuge inside the McDonald's to buy a cold drink. He left by the back door.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.