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The Psychological Effects Of Seeing Police Everywhere In Ferguson

A police officer guards a closed street where protesters and looters rampaged businesses following the grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., on Tuesday.
Jewel Samad
AFP/Getty Images
A police officer guards a closed street where protesters and looters rampaged businesses following the grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., on Tuesday.

After a night of unrest and violence, police are posted at every intersection in Ferguson, Mo. National Guard troops man camouflaged Humvees in strip mall parking lots. The governor ordered more. Is it making the community feel safer?

One thing's for sure: It's keeping people from moving about as they normally would during this holiday week.

The Target store at the end of West Florissant Avenue is virtually empty. At noon, not a single soul is in the checkout lanes. A pair of Croatian journalists are the only people in the attached Starbucks cafe. After the"worst night" of violence St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said he's seen since the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, what's remarkable about Ferguson on Tuesday is its stillness.

"People are scared, panicking," Ferguson native Joseph Kirkwood says as he looks across the street at a burned-out beauty supply store, its roof collapsed like a piece of clothing. Like many locals we've spoken to today, he says he stayed inside with his family during the heaviest violence and looting.

"Violence like we saw last night cannot be repeated," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday. He announced earlier he's sending additional National Guard troops to Ferguson "to ensure people and property will be protected."

But Kirkwood is uncertain all the extra law enforcement is making things better. "People get scared; they act out," he says.

The intersection we're standing at is partially blocked by police already because it marks the start of a 1.6-mile stretch of West Florissant Avenue that saw at least a dozen businesses burned down overnight.

On the other end of the blocked-off stretch is a parking lot turned law enforcement command center, where not only are there armored trucks and trailers for staging but also the patrol vehicles of a half-dozen jurisdictions at once: St. Louis County Police, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Ferguson Police, Bridgeton Police, Bellefontaine Neighbors Police.

The irony is as thick as smoke plumes unleashed on protesters during scuffles last night: A heavy police and National Guard presence is here to restore order and protect civilians after months of unrest that was arguably started by too many unpleasant encounters between police and civilians.

"They probably feel like they're helping, but I don't know," St. Louis County resident Arnell Dotson says while looking out at the parking lot full of police vehicles.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.

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