FERGUSON, MO — Four nights ago, Ned Alexander IV and Steve Wash sat down in an overgrown parking lot and never left.
The two men were among the hundreds of protesters who retreated from police late Tuesday during demonstrations over Michael Brown’s death on Aug. 9. But rather than fade into the surrounding neighborhoods for the night, Alexander and Wash — along with a handful of others — ran to an “approved assembly area” at the far end of protest zone on W Florissant. That night, with a cadre of police watching from across the street, Alexander told BuzzFeed the group wasn’t leaving. And sure enough, the next morning the group was still there, somewhat diminished and fatigued, but holding on. The scene has repeated everyday since, with both men becoming more adamant that they aren’t leaving until they get justice.
Alexander and Wash are part of a small but growing group of protesters in Ferguson who are digging in for the long haul. In their case, a furniture store is letting them camp out in the parking lot, and for the time being police are leaving them alone as well. It’s a brutal space; during the day, the asphalt soaks up the sun and amplifies the already-stifling heatwave. At night it’s cut off by wide streets and endless parking lots.
Still, Wash said the group’s numbers have more or less double nightly, growing from only six people to more than twenty. They began sleeping on the bare pavement, moved up to cardboard boxes and by Friday had sheets and stockpiles of food. Wash said someone always stands guard while the others sleep. And they have no plans to move. “We ain’t going nowhere,” Wash said as his fourth night began Friday. “We out here all night until we get justice. And it don’t matter if it takes us all year round.”
As the marches in Ferguson grow smaller, this apparently semi-permanent encampment has echoes of Occupy Wall Street and other radical encampments who sought to claim and hold territory in 2011 and 2012.
“Why do we need a leader?” Alexander asked. “I’m saying everybody can be leaders.” The camp even has a few Occupy veterans who drifted in during the last week and are giving them pointers on how to deal with things like tear gas — a threat Alexander said is still present, especially as their numbers grow.
A couple of miles away in downtown Ferguson, across the street from the still-under-construction police station, another group is also digging in. Unlike the protesters on W Florissant, the gathering downtown is older and includes more women than men. Many of the demonstrators leave by the middle of the night, though someone is always out and always will be until they “get some answers,” according to organizer Angela Whitman.
“We come out when it’s storming and raining,” she said. “We don’t play around. We don’t care what the weather is. We’ll be out here as long as it takes.”
The atmosphere downtown is almost familial, with chairs and tables spread out across the street corner. Friday night, the group had prayers and competing chants between men and women, among other things.
The protesters in both locations uniformly say they want justice, but beyond that their goals vary and in some cases become less distinct. Whitman said Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, “should have been locked up a long time ago.” Along with pretty much everyone else, she’s awaiting the decision of a grand jury, which is currently hearing evidence in the case.
Most of the people camped out at the protests agreed that prosecuting Wilson would be a good start. But it may not be enough; as Ricky Canamore, another protester explained, Michael Brown was just “the tip of the iceberg.”
“We’re just constantly harassed,” he explained. “You’re handcuffed and sitting on the sidewalk in the rain and in the cold. You’re constantly pulled over for no reason at all. And then you wind up spending $300 to $400 dollars with court costs and all these trumped up charges and everything. It’s always something and I think a lot of people, they are just fed up.”
And like everyone else in Ferguson’s two protest camps, Canamore has no plans to give up.