Events in Ferguson take turn toward peace

Council OKs emergency $1 million for Ferguson residents

By Gloria Lloyd

Events in Ferguson took a turn toward peace this week, and flash bangs, tear gas and police helicopters no longer light up the sky over St. Louis County nightly, as they did for nearly two weeks after the Aug. 9 killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Although the long-term economic costs to the county from the civil unrest remain to be seen, as tensions ease in Ferguson, officials are turning their attention to the shorter-term costs.

The St. Louis County Police Department’s unprecedented response to the protests over Brown’s death cost the county $90,000 to $100,000 a night, County Executive Charlie Dooley estimated Tuesday after the County Council meeting โ€” in all, costs that could mount to more than $5 million.

Much of that comes through costs for overtime, as officers countywide switched to working 12-hour shifts with no days off at the height of the unrest in north county.

Those cost estimates do not include paying for the many municipal and other county police departments that helped police the protests, or for the costs to the state of sending the Missouri National Guard and Missouri State Highway Patrol.

To pay for it all, Dooley said he has talked with the White House, U.S. Sen, Roy Blunt and Gov. Jay Nixon to see if the county can receive federal and state reimbursement for the highly unusual situation that unfolded in Ferguson over the last several weeks.

“We’re looking at everywhere we can possibly get this money back,” Dooley said, adding that it helps that Nixon declared a state of emergency in Ferguson.

“I’ll be honest โ€” if they can bail out the banks, they can bail out Ferguson,” Dooley told the Call.

The County Council unanimously agreed to appropriate up to $1 million in emergency funding at its meeting Tuesday night from the county’s operations fund to help residents affected by the protests “get back to normal,” said Mike Jones, senior policy adviser to Dooley. Jones oversees the Department of Human Services, which will decide how the funding is distributed through the United Way.

While it remains to be seen exactly how the money will be used, Director of Human Services Andrea Jackson-Jennings spent the last three or four days in Ferguson assessing the situation, Jones noted.

“There are as many stories as there are people,” Jones told the Call. “Everybody has been affected by what has gone on over the last two weeks in all sorts of ways. What we wanted to do was be in a position to figure out what needed to be done, who it needed to be done for and not get bureaucratic and then have to come back here with a proposal.”

For example, some residents could not leave their homes to get to work and now need energy assistance to pay their utility bills, and a mother could not leave her home to buy diapers, so her baby ended up in the hospital with a major infection, Jones said.

Later this week, Nixon is set to announce a one-stop economic help center for Ferguson residents, similar to steps taken to help areas recover after natural disasters. The announcement will also include a longer-term economic-development plan for Ferguson, said Katy Jamboretz, vice president of marketing for the Greater St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Ferguson business owner Chantelle Nickson-Clark came to the council meeting Tuesday to ask for relief for business owners like herself and her husband, Corey, who own Swiish Bar & Grill, a restaurant and banquet center in Buzz Westfall Plaza that had its parking lot taken over by the police command operations center. Swiish has not been allowed to operate and has had to refund every event it had booked since teenager Brown was shot by Wilson Aug. 9, sparking the unrest.

Larger chains in the same shopping center, including Schnucks and Target, have been allowed to open as normal, but the police have closed Swiish down and have not spent any money at her restaurant even though they have three catered meals delivered to them every day, Nickson-Clark noted.

“My business is forever damaged by the command center that has moved in front of our building,” she said.

After Nickson-Clark’s comments, another resident asked the council to add business owners to their emergency relief bill for Ferguson residents, but County Council Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, who represents Ferguson, said that she feared that adding businesses would eat up the entire $1 million in emergency funds and not leave enough money to grant relief to any individuals affected by the protests โ€” for example, one business she walked through had $50,000 in looting damage, and more than a hundred businesses were affected in similar ways by the protests, she noted.

Some businesses directly next to the protests on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, such as Ferguson Burger Bar & More, have seen business boom because of the parade of extra people in Ferguson, but most businesses near the center of the protests have seen business drop or have been forced to close for looting or safety reasons. A QuikTrip close to Brown’s apartment complex was burned to the ground the night after he was killed, and after that arson, QuikTrip erected a chain-link fence and preemptively closed its other location along West Florissant.

Instead of splitting the relief funds between residents and businesses, the council could pass a separate bill for businesses or add businesses to the bill later once more is known about whether those businesses could be helped by federal and state funding, Erby noted.

Third District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, asked if business losses in Ferguson would be covered by insurance, but 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, said that many of the businesses have insurance policies that specifically exclude rioting and looting from coverage, so they will receive no insurance reimbursement for their damages.