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As Ferguson Protests Wind Down, Residents Want Outrage Channeled


People are still protesting in Ferguson, Missouri. The demonstrations demand justice for a black 18-year-old shot by a white police officer. But the protests, which were violent in recent weeks, have been getting smaller. Activists and city leaders are beginning to look ahead to what happens next. NPR's David Schaper reports from Ferguson.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: About 100 protesters marched from St. Louis's City Hall to its federal courts building a few blocks away. The group included mostly out-of-towners. But 21-year-old Shermale Humphreys of St. Louis says the protest movement that started in Ferguson can't let up now.

SHERMALE HUMPHREYS: Because they've got to hear us. They've got to see us. If we go home and we do nothing, then it's over with. We have to take a stand.

SCHAPER: Nonetheless the protests are smaller, so some in Ferguson say it's time to channel the outrage. DeBorah Ahmed works for a nonprofit called Better Family Life in the apartment complexes near where Michael Brown was killed.

DEBORAH AHMED: This will probably morph into some other things that are more substantive and long-lasting and that lead to systemic change because this madness has got to stop.

SCHAPER: The madness, says Ahmed, includes much more than the racial profiling and police harassment of young blacks that some here believe led to the shooting, but also the poverty, crime and other problems that underlie the racial tensions here. So she and others are setting out to get more Ferguson residents involved politically and in improving human services, education and job training. Many see the shooting of Mike Brown as a turning point. 21-year-old college senior John Gaskin who was born and raised in Ferguson says not everything should go back to normal.

JOHN GASKIN: Well, some of the normals that we never want to go back to is the level of disengagement within the community. Another thing that we don't want to go back to is the segregation of this city.

SCHAPER: Gaskin is spokesman for the St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP, which is petitioning the Ferguson City Council to require police officers to use dashboard and body-worn cameras, undergo racial bias training and change hiring practices among other things.

Gaskin says while Ferguson is getting international attention for its recent racial strife boiling over, similar tensions are simmering all over the country.

GASKIN: There is a Ferguson near you. And while people want to help so desperately, they should take a look within their own backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sir, can we help you?

SCHAPER: All around town, I-heart-Ferguson signs are showing up in yards and in storefront windows. And the guy giving them out is Ferguson's former mayor, Brian Fletcher.

BRIAN FLETCHER: We want the legacy to be not that Michael Brown's death was for naught - that we've learned from it, we grow from it and that the story, a few years from now, is this amazing recovery.

SCHAPER: Fletcher and a few other volunteers are manning tables at the corner coffeehouse, giving away the signs and selling T-shirts. Fletcher and a few friends started the I Love Ferguson charity to raise money for businesses damaged in the rioting and looting, and to counter what he believes is the negative image of Ferguson in the news. And it's got people talking.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: You know, everybody sees their neighbor with a yard sign, and they maybe haven't talked to them in six months. They're walking over and saying what's that? It's starting a large discussion process.

SCHAPER: The discussions are more hushed along Canfield drive where in the middle of the street, candles and crosses, flowers and photographs, signs and stuffed animals mark the spot where Mike Brown was shot dead. There's almost a constant media presence here that many residents try to avoid. But some don't seem to mind. 34-year-old Matika Simpson says the attention keeps the dialogue going.

MATIKA SIMPSON: I think we moving in the right direction. I mean, I really do. I mean, I think that it shouldn't have took this but, unfortunately, it did.

SCHAPER: And Simpson says she sees her community coming together now, like never before.

SIMPSON: I've came out here and really got to know a lot of people that I didn't have a clue, you know? Everybody's really trying to get along and have peace and faith and just try to get justice.

SCHAPER: That word, justice, will be critical in determining how well Ferguson is able to move forward from the shooting of Michael Brown.

Many in the African-American community say there cannot be justice unless Officer Darren Wilson is criminally charged. A grand jury has just begun considering whether or not to indict. David Schaper, NPR News, Ferguson, Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.