Starbucks is coming to Ferguson.
The upscale coffee shop will be located about a mile from a new education center that is being built in the spot on West Florissant Avenue where a QuikTrip once stood — before it was scorched to the ground during unrest that erupted last year in the aftermath of teenager Michael Brown’s shooting on Aug. 9.
Natalie’s Cakes & More, a black-owned bakery located a block from the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant Road, recently signed a deal with Starbucks to supply the Ferguson coffeehouse and four others in the St. Louis area with the bakery’s scrumptious caramel cakes. Natalie’s was one of several small businesses that were vandalized last November after a grand jury failed to indict former officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death.
In April, the city elected two black candidates to the city council, raising the total of African Americans to three. Ferguson’s interim police chief and interim city manager are both black, a first in the city’s 121-year history. Other new projects are also forecast for the city.
Economically and politically, things seem to be looking up in the neighborhood, which a year ago transformed from a quaint, unknown suburb of St. Louis to ground zero for race relations and police brutality in America. But for some of the journalists who covered the events surrounding Brown’s death — from the shooting to the protests and riots to the period following the grand jury decision and beyond — relations with police in Ferguson and in the St. Louis metropolitan area have been a mixed bag.
“In the months since the Ferguson protests, I’ve had some positive interactions with police, but I’ve also continued to have negative experiences,” said David Carson, a photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who was physically harassed by both the police and protesters. “In my experience, Ferguson has highlighted the need for police officers to receive more training in dealing with the media. All police, especially the younger officers, need to have a greater understanding of the media’s rights, and then they need to respect those rights at scenes. At times, my co-workers and I have been threatened with arrest just for doing our jobs.”
His colleague, Post-Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen, described a random form of policing from officers who “seem to have different marching orders on a given night, depending on who is leading them.”
“While various departments have handled things differently, the differences are mostly guided by which commanders are on the scene,” Cohen said. “One wonders if more uniform training among commanders in working with the media would lead to a more uniform response from their officers.”
Carson said that obtaining simple information such as the name of an officer pictured in a photograph has become difficult.
“Many decline to give their names; others cover their nametags or remove their nametags completely. Some fear the image will be used by anti-police protesters to ‘dox’ them. I understand their concerns, but as public employees with the positions of power they have, being transparent with basic information is important.”
Carson’s and Cohen’s powerful images in Ferguson were among several that earned the newspaper’s photography staff the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
For some of the residents who participated in peaceful protests and marches and sparked a national movement, the anniversary of Brown’s death comes with mixed feelings of triumph, failure, progress and skepticism.
Beverly Adams of University City, Mo., protested for the first time in years after being repulsed by the sight on television of Brown’s body exposed for nearly five hours. A year later, Adams believes her actions were worthwhile.
“There have been so many changes because of the marches,” she said. “They’re doing all kinds of networking in Ferguson now. I don’t feel that anything I’ve done was in vain. I know that being out there marching and protesting made a difference.”
“The struggle and battle continue,” said Anthony Cage, who protested for more than a hundred days after the shooting and grand jury decision, and hasn’t let up. “The police don’t have the same aggressive nature that they used to, and I’ll give them credit for trying, but that’s because the Justice Department forced them to change. There are still a good seven or eight of them that are racist to the bone.”
Thomas Bradley, whose previous harassments by Ferguson police galvanized him and other young demonstrators into the streets, is resigned to a future of more abuse. This year, he said, feels a lot like 2014.
“Nothing’s changed. The only difference is 12 months went past. It won’t change in my lifetime,” said the 25-year-old barber. “They got a new police chief, and they think that’s going to make it better, but it’s not.”
To commemorate the anniversary of Brown’s death, Bradley said the Prime Time Beauty & Barber Shop where he works (located for 20 years on the stretch of West Florissant that suffered the most damage) will offer free haircuts “to show the community that we’re part of [it].”
Despite his pessimism, Bradley offers no regrets for exercising his right to protest.
“I don’t think marching did anything, but I would march again. I’d rather try and not succeed than not try at all,” he said.
The ranks of the protesters have thinned considerably, Cage said, with little more than a hundred demonstrators at certain events. The intersection of West Florissant and Canfield — the street where Brown lived and died — is now called Mike Florissant by the locals. Cage pointed to a stronger community as a positive outcome of the shooting tragedy.
“We are mobilized now. We have made people realize that we’re not going to just sit back and allow them to abuse us. A lot of things just won’t be allowed anymore,” he said.
Whether lessons were learned from a year ago, Cohen cautioned to wait and see.
“The scene commanders will determine what happens Aug. 9,” he said.