Ferguson, Missouri—Three Mondays ago, Glenn Robinson was walking toward a protest at the end of his street when his eyes started to sting and his throat swelled up. Robinson, 63, immediately recognized the sensation. He first encountered tear gas more than four decades ago during basic Army training for the Vietnam War. But this time it was Robinson’s local police, not his fellow soldiers, that had fired the chemical weapons.
“It brought back bad memories,” Robinson said, sitting on a lawn chair on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. The retired veteran decided to skip the day’s protest and ran back to his daughter’s Canfield Green apartment, where he has lived for three years. They shut their screen door and blasted air conditioning to stop the tear gas from drifting into their home. But the damage may have already been done. Robinson is still dealing with a “peculiar feeling” in his throat and plans to see a doctor as soon as he gets the chance. “I’m going to the Army surplus store to buy myself a gas mask,” he said. “The police showed me that I should be prepared for anything.”
After two weeks of chaos and confusion, life for residents of Canfield Green, the predominately black apartment complex where officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, is slowly returning to normal. Not long ago, nightly protests on West Florissant Avenue—and the heavy-handed police response to them—disrupted neighborhood life, taking a major psychological and financial toll on residents. Tear gas and smoke launched by police drifted from the center of unrest, about a quarter-mile west, into people’s apartments. Blockades and checkpoints locked residents in, keeping them from going to work and school. Nearby convenience stores and markets, for some, the only feasible destination for groceries, closed after a small number of looters broke in late at night. On top of these challenges, residents were still grappling with the enduring image of a teenager gunned down in broad daylight right outside their homes and a growing feeling that the community’s police department does not exist to serve or protect them.
“In my book, we’re basically living under martial law,” said Adrian Wilkerson, standing across a makeshift memorial marking the spot of Michael Brown’s death. Brown often stayed at Wilkerson’s apartment to hang out and create rap music with his fiance’s brother. Although he appreciates the protests, Wilkerson has avoided West Florissant to be with Brown’s family and attend to his own life. “I don’t have time to get tear gassed or shot with rubber bullets. I have kids.”
Wilkerson, 27, found a job through a temp agency for an energy company further out in the suburbs. But at the height of the protests earlier this month, the bus he takes to work never came. Transportation officials had redrawn the only route that stops at Canfield Green to avoid the protests. Like other residents that spoke with The Nation, Wilkerson didn’t get the memo. He missed several days of work as a result, and says he’ll have trouble paying his bills this month. Wilkerson added, “Some people want to say, ‘These people don’t want to work.’ How can we work if we can’t even get on the bus?”