Why did Ferguson erupt? The answer depends on your race

Nearly every Ferguson resident who came through the coffee shop to make a donation or thank Fletcher for his efforts was white. And the story they tell about Ferguson, its problems, the shooting and the ensuing police and protester violence bears little resemblance to the one many African-American residents tell about their community. Such polarized perspectives strike to the core of the unrest that seized this St. Louis suburb, and the nation’s attention, in the days after Brown was shot on the street in a poor Ferguson neighborhood.

“This is a racialist city,” said Annie Caine, an African-American woman in her late 60’s, who sat with her granddaughter Megan, 23, on a stone barricade near the burned out QuikTrip on West Florissant Avenue where protesters gathered for a week after the Brown killing. Nearby, a young mother made sandwiches for her three kids. Two young men sat with arms around each other’s shoulders, laughing and sipping from a bottle of beer. “They arrest our boys and our men. It’s set up that way and it’s been that way for years,” Caine said.

Many who passed through the coffee shop in the shinier, redeveloped strip across town on North Florissant Road said they do not see what Caine sees. “The people I associate with are people like me, and we’re what you call colorblind,” said Kathy Noelker, 69, a white woman who has lived in Ferguson her entire life and until last year ran the Saturday farmer’s market. “I’m a couple miles from West Florissant, and I might as well be thousands of miles. I watch this on TV, and I’m shocked this is happening in my community.”