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Ferguson business owners aren't counting on police protection

Many say they have little confidence that the police, despite their numbers, will be effective in stopping their stores from being looted and vandalized.
Sam's Meat Market & More employee Steve Sumad rubs his neck as he surveys damage caused by looters the night before in Ferguson, Missouri, August 16, 2014.
Sam's Meat Market & More employee Steve Sumad rubs his neck as he surveys damage caused by looters the night before in Ferguson, Missouri, August 16, 2014.

FERGUSON, Missouri — The massive law enforcement presence here has been focused in part on defending local businesses from the nighttime looting and vandalism that has plagued the area since the August 9th shooting of Michael Brown. But some business owners and employees say they just can't count on the police for protection.

Meanwhile, they add, concerns about violence and chaos — as well as the sheer disruption to regular life — have driven away customers, impacting their bottom line.

"It's killing us," said Roderick Griffiths, as he shaved a customer's head at Prime Time Barber Shop. "I don't think people are focused on a haircut right now. They got other things on their minds."

On Saturday night, looters smashed windows and emptied the display cases at St. Louis Cordless Communications, directly across W. Florissant Avenue from the corner store where Brown is said to have stolen cigars. Numerous other stores along Florissant have been looted and vandalized as protest over the killing of the unarmed teen have sometimes given way to violence and mayhem.

Sonny Dayan, the electronic store's owner, said that because police were out in force in front of the corner store where the cigars were taken, he assumed his business would be safe, too.

"I thought to myself, 'I got 60 police officers straight across from my shop, I really don't have to worry,'" said Dayan, who has run the store for nearly two decades. So Dayan said he went home at 9 p.m. — and the police left a few hours later, too.

"What kind of help is that?" he asked. "You're protecting in the day when everyone can see, and then you leave at midnight?"

"I didn't feel secure, and I don't feel secure today," Dayan added. "Every night its an iffy night. You watch it on TV and you don't know if the alarm company is gonna call you in the middle of the night." 

"If something else breaks out down the street, I fully expect [the police] to go to that and leave us open."'

Charles Davis, who runs the Ferguson Burger Bar just up the street, said it's not police he's looking to for help.

"I have a big friend," Davis said. "His name is God." 

Davis said that wasn't meant as a criticism of the police. He acknowledged that there's too much potential for chaos for them to guard every business all night. "If something else breaks out down the street, I fully expect them to go to that and leave us open," he said.

Gov. Jay Nixon noted the need to protect local businesses when he announced Monday he was calling in the National Guard.

Eleven days after Brown's death, there's deep concern among public officials and ordinary business owners about the impact of the unrest on Ferguson's local economy, which was struggling even before recent events.

“These businesses are dying," State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who leads the police operation here, told protesters earlier this week. "I want you to look back at other communities where we’ve had riots throughout this country and these communities aren’t being rebuilt.”

"You go down West Florissant right now," Johnson continued. "Quick Trip, closed. It’s closed. And I’m going to tell you, next it’s going to be Walmart and next it’s going to be Sam's. And then after all this is over, we’re going to look and say, 'Now where do we go? We don’t have anything.'"

Sen. Claire McCaskill said she plans to be out shopping, and encouraging others to do so in the coming days, in order "to remind folks that Ferguson is a safe, vibrant community that needs our support and our commerce."

"It's deterring our business, out of fear," said Ikino Jones, who works at another barber shop in town. "It's deterring our regulars who have children and are scared to come up because they don't know what's going to happen."

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents Ferguson and the surrounding communities, said she believes that the trauma Ferguson has undergone could ultimately have a positive effect.

"I do think that when this is over, people will have a firmer commitment to rebuilding the community," Chappelle-Nadal said. "The folks who have participated in the looting aren't recognizing that the employees of some of these businesses are the ones who are affected."