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A tense Ferguson fears the worst is yet to come

If a grand jury fails to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown, Ferguson fears more unrest

Beauty Town has an elaborate video surveillance system that displays 16 angles of the store, but the cameras are better at capturing crime than at preventing it.

The beauty shop has been looted multiple times since a white Ferguson police officer shot an unarmed black man Aug. 9. Last week, during another round of unrest on West Florissant Avenue, a group of young men broke the front windows and raided the shelves and cash register.

Owner Shawn Kim thinks 99% of the people who live around his shop are good people.

For the rest, he’s bought a gun. Just in case.

If the grand jury fails to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown, almost everyone here thinks things will get worse.

“They’re not going to be looting next time,” said Kevin Seltzer, 30, who lives at an apartment complex near where Brown, 18, was shot. “They’re going to burn the city down.”

Far from finding peace after a round of summer protests and riots, Ferguson remains a city on the brink, its nearly every step troubled. The last week has been especially fraught.

In separate incidents, one Brown memorial went up in flames and part of another was run over.

When Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson tried to speak to demonstrators one night, clashes broke out with officers.

Then there was the city’s newly hired spokesman, brought in to help Ferguson repair its image. He was fired after it was revealed that he had been convicted of shooting and killing a man in 2004.

Tensions rose further Saturday night, when officials said a Ferguson police officer on routine patrol was shot in the arm during a foot chase behind the community center. The unidentified officer was treated and released; the shooter escaped.

A few hours later, not far outside Ferguson’s city limits, an off-duty St. Louis police officer was ambushed on the freeway by one or more gunmen, who shot his car multiple times and escaped, officials said. The officer was injured by broken glass. He was not in uniform and was in his own vehicle; it was unclear whether he was targeted or the victim of a random assault.

Ferguson fears the worst is yet to come, especially if the grand jury does not indict Officer Darren Wilson. A decision is expected in November.

With that deadline looming, residents and business owners debated the role police should play during protests.

On Sunday night, several hundred demonstrators massed outside the Ferguson Police Department on Florissant Avenue. “Our streets!” they chanted as they marched. “Last warning!” Police, some in riot gear, lined up opposite them. At least seven protesters were detained, according to an observer for the National Lawyers Guild.

Earlier in the day, at Prime Time Barber Shop, barber Tommy Bradley worried that further protests would erupt after the grand jury issued its findings. Sunday’s demonstration was “pure anger,” he said.

He hoped police would stand down. “They should just hang back,” said Bradley, 25. “Seems like every time something happens, it’s because of the police presence.”

Yet Emya McCrady, 23, a stay-at-home mom who lives in the Canfield Green apartment complex with her 4-year-old son, said she wouldn’t feel secure without a massive police presence when the grand jury decided.

“It’s going to have to be police all over here,” she said Sunday as her son played in the parking lot.

That debate has split four generations of the Loftis family, who sat on their front patio near the community center and debated what should happen.

They love Ferguson, and they have a sign saying so on the front lawn, as do half a dozen neighbors.

Jim Loftis, 96, sided with police, which upset granddaughter Jana Loftis, 37.

“There’s no accountability for police officers who abuse their power,” Jana Loftis said.

“Well, that ought to be corrected,” he responded, “If you don’t like the laws, then change them.”

She scoffed. “That’s just it — did he break the law?” she said, referring to the officer who shot Brown.

Jim Loftis, a conservative Republican who retired from Shell Oil, conceded there were some bad officers, “but that doesn’t make them all bad,” nor did it justify looting.

“You don’t riot and change anything. How would you like it if they came and tore up your house?” he asked her.

“How would you like it if your son was out in the street for four hours?” Jana Loftis shot back, referring to the amount of time police left Brown’s body where he fell.

Saturday night’s shootings triggered worry about how bad things could get.

Samantha Warren, 19, rushed home fearing the worst when she heard there had been a shooting: Her 17-year-old brother was home alone. She found the street blocked by police, helicopters circling, and had to walk around to find her brother. He was safe inside.

A shaken elderly neighbor soon joined them. She said she had been on her sun porch when she heard several gunshots and saw police racing over.

Warren, a college student home for the weekend, said she was sad about what happened in the neighborhood, where just a few weeks ago residents held a barbecue. She said police had been doing a better job of community policing lately.

“They’re just trying to keep the peace,” said Warren, a sophomore studying graphic design at the University of Missouri in Columbia. But that’s not enough to calm tensions, she said.

“I would like to see Darren Wilson come to some sort of justice — he needs to be punished,” Warren said outside the community center Sunday morning. “I don’t think it will stop until they come to some decision on Darren Wilson.”

Shirley Turner, 53, said she had faith in the system, but feared what those already upset with the police might do if Wilson wasn’t indicted.

“We just have to live day by day, trust in God and pray they don’t tear up the city,” she said. “It’s coming to the last days.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Ferguson, Mo., and Pearce from Los Angeles.

Follow @MattDPearce and @MollyHF for national news

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

9:44 p.m.: The story was updated with the number of people detained at Sunday's protest.

9:05 p.m.: The story was updated throughout with new details and information.

The story was originally posted at 11:47 a.m.

 

 

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