A Prayer After All

The military occupation of Ferguson, Missouri, is over

 

Ferguson, Missouri

On the day after Michael Brown’s funeral, the staging area in the shopping mall parking lot on the edge of Ferguson was gone. The footprint surrounded by yellow police line tape was the same. But almost all the 500 parking spaces that remained off limits to the public were vacant. Where hundreds of police vehicles—including more than a dozen hardened, tactical-assault trucks—had been parked a week earlier were 20 police cars, two fire department trucks and a few tents. Instead of scrums of National Guard non-coms and an assault vehicle blocking the parking lot entrance, three desultory St. Louis Police officers leaned against a squad car and waved at passers by.

The military occupation of Ferguson, Missouri, was over.

Less than a mile away at the Canfield Court Apartments, 30 Missionary Baptist preachers—black suits, red ties, Panama hats—were gathered in a half circle around the flowers and photo that serve as a memorial to Michael Brown—on the exact spot where his body lie for four hours after he was shot on September 9.

As one of the preachers began a closing prayer, a young man in a black T-shirt, shorts and baseball cap approached from the other side of the street.

“How you gonna talk about healing this community when you just walk by these brothers and sisters standing on the street and don’t even stop and talk?” he shouted.

“How you talkin’ about healing this community when you gonna turn around and walk back where you come from?”

It is impossible to write about the events that unfolded here over the past week without writing about Ron Johnson.

Louder and louder, a young woman joined him, as others gathered behind him.

Then Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson did something remarkable.

He stepped away from the preachers, reached across the pile of flowers and photos, and took the hand of the man who was shouting.

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” Johnson said. “Let’s all join hands and finish this prayer together.”

And we did.

Hands locked, our arms draped over shoulders, we stood together under the unforgiving midday sun as the Missionary Baptist pastor concluded his prayer for the departed Michael Brown, for the family of Michael Brown, and that “God will bring this community together, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”

It is impossible to write about the events that unfolded here over the past week without writing about Ron Johnson. Johnson was placed in command by Governor Jay Nixon after vandals in the crowd began looting on the first night of protest, and the police turned a four lane suburban avenue flanked by bottom-dollar retail outlets into a war zone.

Johnson, who is from Ferguson, seems to have been everywhere at every hour since he arrived 12 days ago. He is possessed of remarkable instincts and appears incapable of making a bad decision.

As I walked to my rental car to head to the airport, he was standing in the middle of the street, talking to the man whom 10 minutes earlier had been shouting at the preachers.

—Lou Dubose