After the Ferguson protests, church volunteers pick up the pieces

FERGUSON, Mo. (RNS) On the fourth morning after Michael Brown’s death, residents from different parts of the region came together to pick up the pieces.

Some were young, some old. The majority arrived as part of the faithful. Others trickled in after spotting volunteers marching up and down West Florissant under the hot sun. Carrying brooms and large garbage bags, they collected whatever they could find: rubber bullets, broken glass, liquor bottles, tear gas grenades.

“I needed to come out today just to get some stability,” said Gary Park, 34, an auto mechanic who lives near the area in Ferguson where Brown was shot and protests erupted. Close by is the looted and burned QuikTrip that sits as a symbol of the severity of the unrest that resulted from an unnamed cop fatally shooting an unarmed 18-year-old.

“I wanted some encouragement,” Park said.

Park is a member of Passage Community Church in Florissant, which together with a few other local congregations, organized the Wednesday morning cleanup. Pastor Joe Costephens said that although the trash-collecting effort was a last-minute plan, more than 100 people joined the endeavor.

It was a simple act but not an insignificant one, especially since authorities reported two shootings only the night before. In fact, the continued violence has put future volunteer efforts on hold, Costephens said.

Elise Park, 31, a stay-at-home mom, arrived with her two young children who were excited by the novelty of using garbage pickers.

“I was very encouraged coming out here today, seeing all the groups helping,” Park said. “It’s an opportunity for me to invest and really become part of the community.”

Others, including a group of 20 somethings, came out to help on their own.

Larry Fellows, 28, of Ferguson, said that since the shooting he’s been doing what he can to spread a little cheer. Together with a group of friends, Fellows walks the neighborhood’s roads, handing out free water, snacks and cleaning supplies.

Fellows, who works for a health care company, said recent demonstrations aren’t just about the Michael Brown shooting.

"This has been building up for years,” he said.

He said he’s even offered supplies to police, but authorities rebuffed his offers.

Fellows believes that attitude is part of the reason the community remains angry.

“We’re the enemy.”

In an attempt to inspire compassion, another volunteer, Derrick Spencer of St. Louis, said he planned to return a sign to his truck’s windshield that recites a line from the New Testament: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“We can’t take justice into our own hands,” Spencer said. Those who loot businesses are doing so at the expense of Michael Brown, he said.

After working for two hours, nearly 20 people gathered in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Ferguson and held hands in prayer. They prayed for the family of Michael Brown and for businesses in the area that have been damaged by the riots.

Michael Williams of St. Louis, who described himself as a troubled individual who had managed to reset his life, was among those in the crowd. He said he wanted to show that “everybody is not about the rioting. Everybody is not about the destruction.”

Williams said he knows there are good police officers out there. “Most of us believe in doing the right thing, but this came to a boiling point,” he said.

(Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter at The Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter.)


Video courtesy of USA Today


  1. Double take.

    A positive, spin free piece on religious american christians? On RNS? Am I in the right place?

    The author merely reported what happened, and what the volunteers said…entirely within context?

    Better not get us used to this honesty and bias free writing, RNS.

  2. The best RNS could have done was just what they did on this story (I do think RNS often word their titles and stories on the bias.). That’s not going to keep the awful comments from the religion haters from coming in.

    I’m from the deep south. I was born and raised in Fulton County. In a part taken in by the Atlanta city limits. Atlanta earned the title “A city to busy to hate” when schools were integrated and later so were the eating places.

    I remember in about 1960 driving my non-driving mother “up town” to Rich’s department store. Having spent my week-days attending a small mountain college, I was ignorant of what was taking place twenty minutes from my home. Boy what a scene, upon our arrival. The store was made up of two building across the street from one another with connecting bridges over the street. Prior Street and Marietta Street run parallel with store fronts on each other. Civil Rights advocates where marching around one of the Rich’s store and on the opposite side of the street the KKK was marching. In the middle on the street was the vehicles of the Atlanta Police Department. Police seemed to be using every none essential vehicle they had. No tanks, no riot gear (that I could see), just plenty of law enforcement present. They were circling the stores. Customers of the store were not blocked from entering. We parked in the parking garage and my mother went shopping. To say I wasn’t an activist in those days would be an understatement. I didn’t even have a sense of danger.

    Oh we have come so far in the last 54 years. Ferguson, MO a peaceful protest of a killing of an unarmed black youth is broken up with police in riot gear, using tear gas, journalist arrested. Violence and killing by police and vigilantes joins our all ready gun loving culture. We now have a glorification of guns, and the co-opting of God’s own by the Republican Party.

    It was so good to see humble folks getting down to pick up debris in the war-torn city of Ferguson. They were from a Church doing a simple yet beautiful thing. Seeing the film of that simple act gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

  3. This is the Church at its best. Not looting, not throwing molotov cocktails, not giving big interviews on MSNBC, just doing its job and making a small difference where it can.

    PS. Michael Brown was unarmed, but he had just finished doing a strongarm robbery for a box of cigars. THAT was what caused the police to show up; the officer who did the fatal shooting would not have been there if not for that one robbery call.

    Not saying the fatal shooting was justified. It wasn’t. But now we’re seeing more and more of the REAL TRUTH coming out. Wanna say something about it, Al Sharpton??

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