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Life and death along Canfield Drive in Ferguson

As a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case looms, life in the apartment complex where the teen died remains unstable and unsettled.

FERGUSON, Mo.— Taidria Anderson was days away from giving birth in August when she moved into the Canfield Green Apartments, a complex of nondescript three-story buildings plopped lazily along Canfield Drive.

“You can have it all at Canfield Green,” a website for the complex boasts. “Make Canfield Green your home today.”

On Aug. 5, Anderson and her fiance moved into a ground floor apartment in the rear of the complex with their 13-month-old son. On Aug. 8, she delivered a little girl. On Aug. 9, as the family welcomed new life onto Canfield Drive, an 18-year-old named Michael Brown lost his just yards down that same narrow little street.

A confrontation between African-American Brown and a 28-year-old white police officer named Darren Wilson in the middle of the street ended with a barrage of gunfire. Brown’s body, felled by a half-dozen bullets from the officer’s pistol, lay for hours under a scorching summer sun.

The angry days that have followed Brown’s death have tumbled into angry weeks in Canfield Green. Almost immediately after the teen’s killing, as if some sort of spontaneous combustion, the city seemed to catch fire with raw emotion. Incensed residents from the complex poured onto nearby West Florissant Road to join thousands of others to demand answers and justice for Brown. Police activity and mass protests and a more general feeling of mass hysteria over the teen’s death and the fallout that followed had all but paralyzed many here. Some have lost jobs. Some have lost themselves in the movement. While others like Anderson have lost their sense of security, safety and stability.

“I moved out here like four days before he got killed. I mean I understand I didn’t know what was going to happen but I always try to make a good life for my kids and you know I want the best for them,” said Anderson, 19, on Saturday afternoon on the steps of her apartment. “I don’t feel like this is the best. I think it’s going to get worse. I just wanna make sure we’re not in it if it does get any worse.”

Related: Grand jury hearing Michael Brown case to meet Monday

Any day now, a St. Louis County grand jury is expected to announce a decision on whether or not it will indict officer Wilson in Brown’s death. Ahead of that announcement the governor has preemptively declared a state of emergency. Schools have cancelled classes. And police and protesters are hunkering down and preparing for worst-case scenarios and the inevitability of demonstrations that will take place regardless of what grand jury’s decision will be. 

The weeks of lead up to the announcement and all of the anxiety that has been churning across Ferguson and the entire region is tearing at Anderson and her fiance, Karon Johnson, 23. 

“Not knowing the verdict is coming. Not knowing  what’s going to happen after the verdict come. It’s just a scary situation. To have my kids and I feel really so bad for them, for me putting them in a situation that they shouldn’t be in,” said Anderson, a childcare provider at a daycare center. “It’s very stressful, like I’ve been hearing things that people are gonna burn this place down if Darren Wilson isn’t put in jail and like it’s really stressful cause it’s like all my items are in my house, my kids clothes, my car is parked out front.” 

“Sometimes I can’t sleep because I don’t know what’s going on outside,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on on West Florissant. It’s really hard and the stress level is beyond the scales.”

Since the shooting, Anderson said she’s suffered from anxiety attacks and depression. She said that she’s tried to break her lease but management told her that she’d have to pay $1,000 up front to end the lease and the total of each months rent left on it.

“I’ve been here for three months,” Anderson said.  “I’ve just been stuck here until, I don’t know, I guess, until something happens.”

When rioters burned down the nearby Quick Trip convenience store the night after Brown’s death, they took away the closest place for the family to buy milk, food and formula for the babies. Any extra money the family had was spent on transportation to other stores to get essentials. Anderson has had to plead with her boss to keep her job. The stress has taken a toll on their family.

Many nights for the family are spent with relatives. When they are home there are many sleepless days and nights. Anderson works a day shift and Johnson works nights. When they are at work both are often distracted, worrying about what’s going on at home and if everyone is safe and sound. In preparation for an announcement the couple have packed bags and keep them on the ready in case they need to slip out quickly.

“It’s pretty crazy because I pay my hard earned money to live here. I go to work every day for nine hours a day and work my ass off to pay to live here and this is how I have to live,” Anderson said.

“I try to talk to her day by day and tell her things are going to be okay, but its just kind of hard,” said Johnson, a cook. “I can bear with some of the things becuase you know I’m a man but when I got her steady thinking about it and she’s getting down about it, just brings me down. I just hate the whole situation how it’s just falling apart. It’s just very hard on both of us.”

Related: Legacy of Civil Rights Movement looms over Ferguson

Income had been tight even during the best of times. With Thanksgiving next week, the family didn’t have enough for the big traditional meal. The refrigerator was nearly empty, they said.

But in a twist of ironic serendipity on Saturday afternoon, Michael Brown Sr., the father of the boy whose killing shook up the lives of so many who live where he died, arrived on their doorsteps with a turkey and bag of groceries.

Brown Sr. handed the bags off to Anderson and he and Johnson embraced each other in a hug.

“Thank you,” Johnson said to Brown Sr. “Thank you for everything you’re doing in the community.”

Brown Sr., flanked by family and other supporters marched through the complex knocking on doors and handing off Thanksgiving provisions. He traded handshakes and hugs and said this is what his son would have wanted.

“I’m giving back to the community, brother. Showing my love back. On August 9th , 2014 where the people looked out for my son by putting it on social media to expose what’s happening over here in this community,” Brown Sr. said.

When asked what he was thankful for, Brown Sr. slowed as he marched toward a memorial of wilted flowers and balloons that mark the spot in the middle of Canfield Drive where his son’s body lay.

“That my son is making change,” he said softly.

Anderson and Johnson have no way of knowing what the grand jury’s decision will be. What they know and feel so deeply is the impact of Michael Brown’s death and the long wave of uncertainty that continues to lap into their lives. Balancing calls for justice in Brown’s death and peace at home has been tough.

“I feel like it was wrong because it could have been my child, it could have been me,” said Johnson, his 16-month-old son propped up high in his arms, lips blue from a lollipop almost the size of the toddlers chunky forearm. “But it’s really hard with the community … protesters all in the streets and it’s just really stressful on her and my kids because I gotta talk to her when she’s driving home because it’s so much going on.”