Two men argued beneath a yellow streetlight Thursday night in Ferguson, Mo.
Both men were part of the protest over the death of Michael Brown, but they had very different ideas about what should be happening: One believed the protesters should obey police, while the other said they were surrendering too much to the officers in the shadows.
As the men's voices rose, heads turned. A clergyman ran between them. But then, within seconds, the two men stepped aside and began a private debate on their own. Ultimately, it was a quiet moment that few even noticed.
Tensions are high every night in Ferguson, and anything that carries a whiff of confrontation puts police and protesters on alert. But the speed and ease with which the two men voluntarily resolved their disagreement seemed to epitomize an increasingly stable peace on West Florissant, where the protests have taken place. And while it's impossible to predict the future, after three nights of relative calm the sense on the street is that the first chapter in the story of the protests over Michael Brown's death may be drawing to a close.
Thursday afternoon and evening, that meant seeing a long line of beige National Guard Humvees rolling out of the sweltering Target parking lot and heading away from the city. Police still closed West Florissant to traffic, but they did it later than any other day this week. And in a particularly symbolic move, large numbers of police SUVs and armored vehicles drove away in the middle of the evening — while the protesters were still marching.
In other words, the appetite for conflict seemed to be sated.
Tensions may have cooled, but the story is far from over.
Ray Brown and Tony Louis were out selling Michael Brown T-shirts to protesters Thursday night. Both men live nearby, and while talking with BuzzFeed decided to prove how common it is for black men in the community to be jailed.
"Are you from around here? Have you been to the justo?" Louis asked the first stranger who walked by.
The man, Leon Kemp, had been locked up in "justo" — the nickname for the local jail — multiple times. And according to him, for things like traffic tickets.
Kemp agreed with Brown and Louis that most of the people in their community have had similar experiences. They went on to detail the cramped conditions in the jail, the financial problems people suffer as a result of incarceration, and their belief that blacks in the community are overwhelmingly singled out for harsh treatment, while whites are not. "Minority life isn't worth as much as white life to the powers that be," Kemp said.
Police could not be reached late Thursday evening, and the issues that may be contributing to this issue are obviously complex. But in any case, the stories keep being told: Louis said that he previously ran a nightclub in St. Louis' East Loop district. The club was featured several years ago in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but according to Louis, it was ultimately driven out of business by an endless barrage of demands from the city. Louis believes those demands were racially motivated, and didn't mince words when he described the message he was getting: "It's basically, 'Jump, nigger, jump.'"
Many of the protesters have similar stories about racial profiling, and whatever the other side may be, those stories are shaping the narrative. The protests also haven't yet brought about any specific change.
That means anger and frustration remain, and the next chapter in the story of Michael Brown's shooting will be about whether, in Louis' words, it actually was "the straw that broke the camel's back."