FERGUSON, Missouri — What a difference a week makes.
If the crushed glass lining the street from the busted-in store windows last Friday were any indication of the escalating violence that would rock Ferguson in the following days, the peaceful gathering of families and residents here last night set a hopeful prelude for the approaching weekend in a community yearning for justice.
“Just because we’re seeing a smaller crowd, that doesn’t mean their concerns are going away,” Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson told msnbc. “They still have concerns and they’re going to make sure they continue in peace.”
As the sun went down on W. Florissant Ave., pockets of protesters ambled along the sidewalk in one of the calmest nights here since a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown almost exactly two weeks ago.
“It’s cool right now,” said Marcel Eodson, a 23-year-old Ferguson resident. “But St. Lou is going to be St. Lou. Crime is going to be crime out here. It ain’t gonna change with the police out here.”
Small crowds of protesters maintained the march chanting “Hey hey! Ho ho! These killer cops have got to go!” as police officers watched from the side, leaning back on the hoods of their vehicles.
The scene was a stark contrast to just one week ago when armored vehicles lined the ends of the street as riot police officers stood ready to advance on the crowd. Though the night began with relative quite, by midnight, the peace devolved into chaos as rowdy crowds busted through storefronts and police attempted to disperse the protesters by lobbing canisters of tear gas into the night sky. The tensions would only escalate into gunshots and police crackdowns throughout the weekend with little indication that the violence would ever let up.
But in many senses, the chaos has died down. In the week since the looting, security forces have exchanged armored vehicles for police cruisers. Rather than readying riot gear, police officers are exchanging leisurely chit-chat with protesters as they make their rounds.
"Despite a second day of intense heat and humidity, I observed very little tension on the streets tonight," Capt. Johnson said in a brief press conference just after midnight Friday. "Instead I continue to see more and more citizens and police officers making eye contact, smiling at one another and shaking hands."
There were zero arrests last night, Johnson announced -- no fires, no shootings, and no militarized police response. "Good things happen when people calmly interact and that is what's happening," he said.
Across town in Ferguson’s historic downtown, residents danced to Michael Jackson and enjoyed the balmy summer Friday night at the Ferguson City Walk. It was part of a regularly scheduled concert series at the park, but by showing up, the revelers -- mostly white, but with some black residents mixed in as well -- showed they were eager to get back to normal life.
On Saturday, the high school Brown attended is expected to hold a moment of silence to honor the slain teen, followed by a march held by the NAACP in the late afternoon, where organizers will rally in support of demilitarizing police forces and advocate for officers to wear cameras while on duty.