There was nobody at the QuikTrip on Thursday — that’s the gas station and convenience store that burned down on the first night of violent protests in Ferguson, Mo. It was once a focal point for protesters.
On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered his state’s National Guard to start withdrawing, a sign of the calm that has finally descended on the city racked by protests ever since police shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man named Michael Brown.
While the QuikTrip was quiet, there’s more of a crowd a short walk away at the Canfield Green Apartment Complex — that’s where Brown was shot. Members of the NAACP are here dropping off food and water for residents.
“A lot of people have had trouble getting out of here,” says John Gaskin of the St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP. “Many of the people that live in this area don’t have cars; as you can see, many of the more accessible stores — like the convenient marts — are closed because of the looting.”
He says the presence of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has helped calm down protests. So have the rain and heat. On Wednesday night, only six people were arrested in Ferguson, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol. That’s way down from the previous night when 51 people were arrested.
More than 160 people have been arrested since the protests began, nearly two weeks ago. Arrest records provide details about where the protesters are coming from.
Sgt. Al Notham, who works with the Highway Patrol, says the bad actors have largely been weeded out. “Community leaders are stepping in. We’re getting all kinds of assistance from the community. They’re actually doing a fantastic job.”
Since the protests erupted, people in Ferguson have insisted that the troublemakers are not from this community. Capt. Ron Johnson, the highway patrolman in charge of security here, said as much earlier this week.
“I am not going to let the criminals that have come out here from across this country and don’t live in this community define this neighborhood and define what we’re going to do to make it right,” Johnson says.
In fact, of the 51 people who were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, only one person was from Ferguson. The rest were from surrounding towns and faraway cities such as Des Moines, Iowa, Chicago and New York.
Some were arrested for property damage, disorderly conduct and burglary. Most were taken in for simply not dispersing when police ordered them to.
The violence and looting have also been largely at night. During the day, the protests are completely different. Peaceful protesters have come to Ferguson from as far as Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit to be a part of an outcry sparked by Brown’s death.
Kevin Mattson drove here from Athens, Ohio, with his family to protest aggressive policing and to support the plight of young black men.
“It’s my obligation as a citizen of the nation,” Mattson says.
The Mattson family was protesting earlier this week along with 15 or 20 other people, some praying, in front of the Ferguson police station. While Mattson and his wife, Vicky, are white; his son, Jay, is black.
“Just being African-American and seeing a kid only two years older than me get shot, it’s really, just sad and makes me worried about how I am going to act when I leave the small town I live in now,” Jay Mattson says. “Because everybody grew up with me and they knew who I was, but when I move away I don’t know how other people are going to react to me.”
The protests may have died down for now. But Gaskin, with the NAACP, says his group is planning a youth march on Saturday. And a decision on whether to charge police officer Darren Wilson with shooting Michael Brown could be weeks away. That could give people from across the country plenty of time to figure out the way to Ferguson.