The service in the church where one week ago many thousands mourned the death of Michael Brown begins with the words: “If there has ever been a time when we’ve needed The Lord, it’s right now.”
The stage of the Greater Grace Church is illuminated in purple light, two big screens show close-ups of the Bishop’s preaching. The setting reminds me of a multiplex cinema. While every seat was taken for Brown’s memorial last week, the church members gather in the front rows for this Sunday’s sermon. The Bishop talks of “healing the community” and the “lost generation”, their violence. He then admonishes his listeners: to get an education. And to vote. “The word Ferguson won’t be a bad word no more”, he says.
In the crowd of perhaps 300 believers, two are white, resembling, of course, the demography of St Louis County: most areas either have a Black or a White majority – a “mix” is hard to find.
7.3 miles separate my flat from the area or protest. Separate hipster cafés from tear gas. Gated villas from broken windows. “Are you crazy? Why would you go there?”, was the reaction of many of my classmates when I told them I wanted to go to Ferguson. Eventually, three of them joined and so we took a Taxi to the church. Drama-Tourists.
Only, there is no more drama on West Florissant Avenue, scene of last week’s protests. Rather, the area resembles an abandoned battlefield: a burned gas station, shops closed or covered with wood, ‘blocked road’ signs pushed to the sides of the street. Withered roses on the pavement. Some people hand out white T-Shirts: “Don’t shoot!” read the red letters. The “Professional Protesters” (a term I didn’t know existed) who had come from all across the States have now, mostly, gone home. A few are still around, some have pitched their tents. A small group of men outside a fast-food chain prepares for another march in the afternoon. Things are quieting down – but it is unclear how (or if) they will ever be resolved. When the last protesters, volunteers and police men have left West Florissant Avenue, they will leave behind what the Bishop calls a “shattered community”: a traumatized and impoverished group of people in the city of Saint Louis – where race determines class. 25 minutes away from my private school campus.