Seven Impressions of South Grand from the Night of The Decision

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For many, the violence that erupted in St. Louis in the wake of Monday’s night Grand Jury announcement dramatically played out via broadcast or cable news stations, or through a variety of web feeds, whether corporate or independent. My proximity as both a home- and business-owner along South Grand allowed me a different, somewhat-dissonant view of the situation that slowly built along the South Grand business district as Monday night progressed.

Hopscotching between my business and the street was fascinating, as Channel 4’s coverage played in the bar I manage, one that drew a strangely-full house in the immediate moments before the decision was read by County Prosecutor Bob McCullough. (More on that momentarily.) As the evening wore on, KMOV’s anchors seemed more-and-more tied to the brief flashes on their monitors, the news readers trying desperately to decipher what was happening on the ground. It wasn’t always a smooth thing, as the Channel 4 anchors never fully seemed to pick up on the exact action that was happening on Grand; perhaps that’s understandable, considering the immense emotion taking place across town in Ferguson and the inherent lack of nuance that comes with broadcast news.

But Grand had plenty of plots and sub-plots, twists and turns. Many of them couldn’t be captured by news copters or reporters locked down to one camera position. Luckily, I was able to float, with any expectations. The following impressions are mine and mine only; how could I presume to speak for anyone’s experience, even along the same stretch of city street? Here are a half-dozen-plus-one thoughts on a night I’ll not soon forget.

The TV: Only a day after discussing the pros and cons of having a television in a barroom, our place was empty in the half-hour before the McCullough announcement. But as it drew nearer to 8 p.m., something strange happened; more people kept coming, until a crowd of just over 25 sat in rapt attention for the next hour, as his speech and Q/A session bled into one with President Obama. As the night went on, our usually TV-free environment stayed glued to Channel 4’s coverage; at times, people just watched, though they more often did so while also tapping at their phones. There was a common conversation, though few were conversing. Modern communication was in full effect.

The Highway: My second time slipping out of the bar came when the news coverage turned to the protest marchers taking over I-44, stopping the traffic heading in both directions. My interest piqued, I drove a few blocks, then walked a few more. (Crunching across dozens of gingko fruits once inside of Reservoir Park.) The scene was freaky, uncommonly so, as I wound up on the hill overlooking the protest, slowly moving my way down to the highway, where the protest seemed 100 people deep, at least that many just off the roadway and on the eastbound exit ramp, with as many more on the hillsides. In time, the group gave way, with protesters even waving through the first few cars. Then calls went out for the group to march to “Grand and I-64.” (Were there outside organizers involved here? Well, how many St. Louisans do you know that call Highway 40, I-64? Just a theory.) Once on Grand, the SLMPD was set, stationed on the bridge and the march moved south, back to the business district. The moment of seeing the two sides lined up in a standoff? Dramatic. The feeling of being on the highway? Honestly: energetic. The view of a police line moving slowly towards you? Scary. In total? Surreal.

"Hey hey ho ho these killer cops have for to go" — 44 & Grand

A video posted by thomas crone (@thomasakita) on

The Misinterpretation: At one point in the march, things were moving back north on Grand. Strung out at the end of the group were a few stragglers, one of whom was chanting various versions of “Fuck the Police,” with a line of police cars behind him, to the tune of 50-yards, or so. I slapped up an Instagram video of it and labelled it Fuck the Police. In also adding it to Facebook, I noticed that a police officer I know from the City was chastising me. Then a friend texted me, saying that there was more talk about me on another thread. I never did see those comments, but I understood quickly that by not using quotation marks around “Fuck the Police,” the idea gathered was that it was my own statement, or sentiment. Two quotation marks, one sharp response, a possible thread I missed. All because I was walking, recording, jotting notes, trying to keep up. I’m not in the business of making excuses for reporting, but if you’re doing it on the fly, it’s not necessarily pretty, especially in an age when instantaneous thoughts go live and people thrive on picking apart errors and omissions. Oh, well, live and learn.

The Windows, I: The moment at which I fully realized that things were taking on a new vibe came in a quick instant. Standing on the northeast corner of Grand at Arsenal, I heard some dull pops to my right, then a few more. As quickly as that, a half-dozen rocks had smashed against the windows of Salon St. Louis. The first few didn’t go through, but then more would. A woman, whom I assumed an owner or manager of the business, fully ran after a handful of the young folks that threw the rocks, chasing them onto Arsenal before they all disappeared from sight, her voice crying out against their act. The shop’s alarms blared and the curious pressed close to the business, with a mixture of shock and laughter. A few took time to pose for photos. Others grabbed a pic or some video and moved on. For me, that was the turn; the night would get weirder, edgier.

The Windows, II: Moving back down Grand to my own block, Connecticut, was strange. Police were everywhere, but lots of small things were happening on the periphery. In the middle of Grand, a young woman sat in the dead-center of the road, with mask-on and cars circling her. For a second, I was touched; thinking about scenes like this in, say, China, I’d be moved and would salute the spirit of someone taking that kind of direct action. And for a second, I held onto that, even as cohorts of hers were building a barricade across Grand; this seemed strange with police so close, but just as the barrier was up, a big portion of the group splintered and ran up the street. In their wake, broken windows: to Baida, Parsimonia, others. More rocks, more broken windows, with police so freakin’ close. The lack of an actual, proactive presence by this point was lost on me, completely; especially as big groups in riot gear were stationed just a few blocks away. Weird and upsetting, on every level.

A video posted by thomas crone (@thomasakita) on

The Senses: On a walk back north, passing business owners and residents who were standing guard outside the buildings, I was hit by the smell of tear gas, which began to make my eyes water before I’d realized what was really happening. My nose burned a bit, my eyes kept tearing up, but the gas had been dissipating by the time I reached Arsenal. There, a pretty amazing scene was taking place, with dozens of riot-suited police set up just across a narrow path from MoKaBe’s, a coffeehouse that’s been in the news since declaring that it would serve as a 24-hour safe zone for protesters. Shouting was taking place, police warnings went out about unlawful assembly. For a second, I imagined being caught up in the activity, arrested for the crime of observance. But, strangely, the police filed west, down Arsenal, giving the streets fully back to the protesters, who moved into Arsenal with chants and the airing of grievances. Things had gotten too weird, now. It was time to head home. But first, a quick trip back….

The Prayer: Between Baida and The Gelateria, sitting on a small ledge along the street, a young woman sat in meditation as the street was socially crumbling around her. I’ve known Naa-Dodua for a while, but here she sat in a new form, an emissary of pure peace. And there was verbal chaos all around her as she sat. From a second-floor window across the street, a couple yelled to police that there was someone on the back of their building, maybe more than one person. As if on some type of socially-backward cue, a pair of women on the west side of the street yelled the old saw that “snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches.” It would been some type of social satire, but it was real and it was jarring, one more example in what was becoming a string of screwed-up moments. But Naa-Dodua was in pose, hands on knees, intent beaming, doing the best that any one person could do to advocate for humanity. Someone I’d seen at the bar earlier, Martin, caught the same visual, as he was sweeping up glass at Baida next door. “That’s a good picture,” he said. It was a good image, for sure, of a good person, doing a good act, on a night when countless more were needed. And it came because she left her house and took to the streets. As all good people should do when others would own them.

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  • Brian

    The thugs may occasionally own the night, but my beautiful neighbors, of all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities and ages own South Grand: http://imgur.com/a/fdJ9q

    • moe

      I went to South Grand today to help support (albeit a small lunch support) the great restaurants that were damaged in last night’s protesting and I started talking to one of the volunteers painting the plywood window boards that had “Why, these were our jobs” tagged on them. I asked one of the taggers why that message and next thing I know, it’s 3 hours later, I have brushes in my hands, paint on my sleeves, hundreds walking by and taking pictures, dozens of volunteers were painting various scenes on the plywood boards, I’ved chatted with at least a dozen or so other fellow “painters” and everyone is thanking each other for coming together and just talking….blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, people from the Tower Grove South, East, Dutchtown, the Grove, Benton Park neighborhoods, people from U.City and as far away as Joplin, rich, poor, handicapped, adults, teenagers, kids…..it was amazing. So if we can to it after the protesting, why the hell can’t we do it before the protesting?

      • Brian

        Thank you & everyone who swept, painted and shared and listend. The sharing and listening were the most important parts. It is a shame that we always seem to wait until someone does something inhumane to reach out to one another as human beings. I think once the troubles pass and the boards come down, they should somehow be preserved and displayed somewhere in the neighborhood. It is sort of like our local Berlin Wall moment in reverse: by putting up walls to protect ourselves, we actually broke down some walls. The hope is that when the plywood comes down, the things that divided us before will be diminished.

  • RyleyinSTL

    Save the irresponsible, dangerous and stupid move of blocking an Interstate highway, the protesters in the city generally behaved fine. The police gave them some space to block traffic on Grand and they worked out their frustrations. It was the criminal element that took things in a bad direction.

    Every city has it’s criminals, we are not unique in this. The neanderthals trying to taint the protesters message, and inflict fear in the rest of us, will get what’s coming to them; crime never pays. In a strange twist the destruction on Grand gives us all some common ground, something every last resident of the Red Brick Mama (regardless of color or circumstance) can rally against.

    Those of us who live and work in this city know what kind of amazing future we have and we’ll be damned if a few idiotic criminals are going to change that.

    • moe

      Fear is really the only thing the criminals have. The guns, the knives, the rocks….they are only tools. They are capable of inflicting pain and even death of an individual, but not of a community. They know they have lost or will lose to those with common sense, a sense of purpose, an education, a drive and a goal. Fear has more control on all of us than we care to admit and that is why we cannot let a few ruin it for all. FDR was right: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

  • Michael C.

    I believe the city of St. Louis has a very bright future. I also think there are people who don’t want St. Louis to have a bright future. The violence and destruction that has been orchestrated in St. Louis has often come from divisive individuals outside our area. What is most obvious is that the media and political elites in the east and west coasts could care less about us and will use our situation for their own benefits. Our situation in St. Louis is so much better than that of New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and a host of other cities in North America. They are the hypocrites. We have a lot to be proud of as a city. We are a great city and let’s not lose our momentum. Let’s keep pushing forward as we have been. Let’s stop listening to the sensationalism of the biased American media. Let’s keep on building, restoring, and renovating our city neighborhoods. That’s what we should focus on. And remember, evil can only destroy itself..

  • n/a

    what future does this city have…

  • n/a

    what future does this city have…

  • n/a

    what future does this city have…

    • John

      A very bright one. A lot of opportunities will rise once the dust settles.

      • guest

        I agree. The city has enormous momentum and yes, this is a very ugly bump in the road but it may turn out to be more than good than bad if we take advantage of the opportunity.

    • Alex Ihnen

      To be honest, what I’m feeling right now is a renewed dedication to make sure that St. Louis becomes a better place, that all the good work being done by good people isn’t overshadowed, that those who have been neglected become a more integrated part of the community, that we’re not defined by recent headlines. Perhaps it’s just stubbornness, but it’s energizing, and I hope what others are feeling as well.

      • Jeff Leonard

        I’m with you Alex. Now is a time for action, constructive action, sustained action. There are structural impediments to progress in St. Louis, as there are in many cities, but particularly here. We need to remove these, one by one. I’m ready to do what I can.