Scenes From A Shanty Town Riot

On Mike Brown, Ferguson, etc.


This past Sunday afternoon, a cop car pulled onto a street in a shitty apartment complex in Ferguson, MO, an economically depressed town of about 21,000 people on the outskirts of St. Louis.

There it encountered a couple of black guys walking in the street. Another car could have come down the street, hit either or both of those black guys and been damaged. Also, the concrete likely hadn’t been replaced since white people with means fled the area back in the ‘60s. It could have been damaged by those guys walking on it.

Clearly, something had to be done.

What happened next is unclear. According to the other kid who was there, who didn’t get shot, who looks like a broke A$AP Rocky, the cop shouted an expletive at the kids. Because they were standing in the street, natch.

Then he tried to pull one of them into his car, like an old conversion van-era child molester. I saw a 16mm film with a similar plot when I was in the first grade. It may have prevented me from being “tampered with,” even though I was black and not particularly handsome, and hence presumably not at as much risk.

You can never be too safe when it comes to that sort of thing.

The kid, Mike Brown, was able to break free, and so the cop shot him, from what I understand. At that point, he took off running. The cop gave chase. Mike Brown threw up both his hands, like Sgt. Elias in Platoon, told the cop he didn’t have a gun and pleaded for his life.

The cop, being a cop, shot him in his face and in the chest, killing him, and then shot him several more times just in case he came back to life and tried to file a report.

Note that that last bit is pure speculation on my part. And my account of the killing is based on eyewitness accounts provided by the other kid who was there and people in nearby apartments, which I’m sure contradict the version of the story told by the cop, who’s on paid leave somewhere off in Chesterfield.

But come on. Who are we kidding?

Mike Brown was walking from his own house to his grandmother’s house. The fact that he would voluntarily visit his grandmothher lets you know what kind of guy he was. The brother was a mensch. Or maybe there was just food there.

He may have stopped to get some candy on the way. 5–0, which is good for randomly accusing people of crimes, says he shoplifted some candy bars from Quik Trip. I’ve heard other reports that he didn’t even stop at Quik Trip, he stopped at a store called Ferguson Market.

Regardless of what he did at Ferguson Market, they didn’t call the cops on him. He could have started the Chicago Fire from Ferguson Market, if it had a time machine like in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The police tried to claim after the fact that he’d been stealing, and therefore shooting him 10 times is somehow justified, but they didn’t even know he’d been to the store.

As Despot would say, motherfuckers don’t know shit!

Ferguson PD’s counterparts out in Staten Island, NY, tried to pull the same shit, after they choked out Eric Garner. Garner had been busted four or five times for selling loose cigarettes, which probably isn’t even illegal, except there’s no tax on them.

But here’s my thing. Unless they fell off a truck somewhere, did you not pay taxes on them when you copped them in the first place? Why would you need to pay taxes on them again? That’s taxation without representation! You’d think, this is a cause the teabaggers could get behind. If only they weren’t virulently racist.

If Eric Garner were still alive today, I’d refer him to the junkyard dog, Stacin Goins. He’s like my own personal Johnny Cochran. As a matter of fact, he kicked Johnny Cochran’s ass. And like Johnny Cochran, this dreaded n-word hates cops. He lives to fuck with the police.


Mike Brown’s body lay dead in the street for four hours before someone came along and peeled it up using one of those spatulas you use to remove a pizza from a brick oven. It took 5–0 way less time to show up in some shit from out of G.I. Joe—which makes me wonder where they keep that shit.

I also wonder if there really is such a thing as a Kung Fu Grip, though I’m not quite curious enough to go over there myself and find out.

A few years ago, when Army tanks suddenly began patrolling the streets of some of the more “sketchy” neighborhoods here in St. Louis, we were assured that it was part of a training exercise at a nearby reserve base, and not a dry run for when Obama unleashes the Ebola virus, takes away our guns and ships black people off to FEMA camps.

I knew better than to believe that, because I watch Alex Jones videos quite literally every day of the week. There’s nothing he can say at this point that’s so ridonkulous that it probably didn’t already happen. Everything we’ve said came true, everything we’ve done has been right.

The police in North County are bad enough without tanks, machine guns and body armor. Their main weapon is to pull you over for doing a mile or two over the speed limit, and then hope to find a little crack or something in your ashtray. Even if they don’t, they’ll still give you a ticket.

It’s understood amongst those of us who live nearby that if you have to go somewhere that involves driving through that area, your best bet is to go around it. Driving through the stretch of towns sort of along Natural Bridge going towards the airport, in particular, is pretty much asking to have your license revoked and/or get locked up for warrants in a cell with umpteen gangbangers.

If you’re meeting someone who lives in that area, it goes without saying that either they’re coming to meet you, or the two of you agree to meet at a third location elsewhere. It’s not the kind of area where you have people over for a pleasant afternoon. Take Havoc’s advice from the song “Trife Life.” Don’t ever go see a bitch.

Having said that, Ferguson, MO, is not the worst place in the world. It looks like Iraq right now, if my TL on Twitter is any indication, but I’d still rather be in Ferguson. The part where the kid got killed has a McDonald’s that has apparently continued to operate despite the surrounding chaos. #priorities

I’d be lying if I said I’m overly familiar with Florissant, but I know of it. And I know St. Louis. The place where I live now, a classic inner ring suburb, has a similar history of white flight and what have you. I spent the first few years of my life living in an apartment complex that looks like the low rises in The Wire, smack dab in the middle of the area I recommended against driving through, but later I lived in the kind of affluent suburb where St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar lives.

A brief note on St. Louis’ weird neighborhoods and police jurisdictions: The name St. Louis is generally used to refer to the actual City of St. Louis, but also the surrounding suburbs, the part of Southern Illinois on the opposite side of the Mississippi River, and arguably, adjacent meth towns like St. Charles and JeffCo.

Whereas St. Louis was once the fourth largest city in all of Murica—and not too long ago, believe it or not—now only about 300,000 people live in the city itself. If you just count the city, St. Louis is not even in the top 50 largest US cities. But about 3 million people live in the St. Louis metro area, so it’s not a small town per se. Our ideas are small, our asses are ginormous and our population is medium-sized.

To hear some young guy from The Atlantic tell it, St. Louis is the most racist city in America. Or rather, “There is no large city in America more burdened by racial tension and mutual suspicion than St. Louis.” Granted, he went on to live somewhere other than St. Louis, and write for The Atlantic, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of my car in Ferguson, but I’d say that’s putting too fine a point on it.

The most racist city in America is almost certainly somewhere in the South where they drag elderly black men behind pickup trucks. We shoot black children in the street as if they were Michael Vick’s dogs, but some things we just don’t do.

St. Louis is not the most racist city in America, but rather the most race-conscious city in America. We never got the memo that you’re not supposed to refer to a black guy as “a black guy” in a conversation that doesn’t have shit to do with the guy being black. Or vice versa. We acknowledge race here in the St. Louis.

I bring this up because I’ve noticed some awkwardness when I’m in other cities and I’m constantly bringing up someone’s race—not for any other reason than to identify them, mind you. I get the same thing with my blog; people say I’m obsessed with race. Saying someone’s obsessed with race in America is like saying someone’s obsessed with tits in a strip club: why else would I be here?

This race-consciousness, and also St. Louisans’ famous obsession with where people went to high school, is born out of a pettiness that comes from St. Louis having once been one of America’s premier cities and now being the kind of place anyone with ambition mostly just hopes to escape from. St. Louis is the kind of city that would rather hold certain people down than bring everyone up.

Sidebar: Speaking of escape, the movie Escape from New York was shot in St. Louis, because by the time it was filmed, in the early ‘80s, St. Louis more accurately resembled the kind of New York they were trying to depict in the film. It looks more like an East Coast city, despite being off in a corn field somewhere.

A long, long time ago, when people of means still lived in the city, they declared the city independent from the surrounding areas, so no tax money from the city would go to feed hungry children in suburbs like—wouldn’t you know—Ferguson. When everyone who could afford to left the city, they took their oh so precious tax money with them. And so now they’ve got a few extra dollars in their pocket, but they’ve also got an inner city that looks like a festering open wound. This is St. Louis in a nutshell.

The airport in St. Louis was once the hub for the entire Southeast. Rather than move the field to Southern Illinois, where there’s enough land to accommodate that many planes, they tried to expand the existing field by razing the legendary ghetto Kinloch. The airlines, realizing what kinds of assholes and idiots they were dealing with, shifted the hub to Atlanta, and now millions of people who would have passed through St. Louis—or at least the St. Louis area—don’t come anywhere near here.

Ferguson is being portrayed in the media as if it’s Watts or some shit, which I guess is understandable, seeing as that there was a race riot there (perhaps there will be a Staples Singers concert), but I find that to be a mischaracterization. According to the wiki, Ferguson is about 67% black and about 30% white. That’s downright diverse by St. Louis standards.

If you notice, the only white people you see in the pics coming out of Ferguson are the cops. But I know they’re there. I’ve seen white people in Ferguson, in TV news reports on some annual festival they have in the historic downtown area. Or is that Florissant? How should I know? I’m from West County. It’s one of the most American places you can be from—we don’t know shit!


One of the few things I’ve learned, spending my adulthood so far living in a less fortunate area, via downward mobility, is that people in the hood go outside. Hoodrats, for whatever reason, stand outside in their front yards having phone conversations on 1990s-style cordless phones. Groups of 8 or 10 kids will randomly form in the middle of the street. Old black men sit in law chairs on front porches probably discussing how much they hate white people, as they should.

It was only a matter of time before people showed up on the block where Mike Brown lay dead in the street. It seems like most of the cops on the scene were St. Louis County police, known as County Brown, and there may have honestly been a bit of cultural misunderstanding. 5–0 showed up and started ordering people to go home, and they were like, TF do you mean go home? This is where we live, dumbass!

Really, the cops should have gone home. Them being there, with all that military gear, didn’t seem to serve any purpose. All those tanks and shit, and they couldn’t keep Quik Trip from burning to the ground. Does the tank not have a hose connected to it? That’s something for the Pentagon to think about. Maybe our best and brightest can hose themselves off the next time they get blown up by an IED, rather than burn to a crisp.

I know there was an issue with the government not wanting to spend extra on armor plates that would prevent that sort of thing from happening, which just goes to show what they think of the rednecks, gangbangers and cholos they’re sending over there. If they didn’t spend so much on arms intended to shoot their own people, that wouldn’t be an issue, now would it? #logic

Propaganda-esque news reports coming out of Ferguson showed black kids emerging from rim shops with wheels probably big enough to go on one of those tanks, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that half the cops in the city were standing there across the street. Would anyone mind explaining that? Did the cops purposely allow the kids to loot those rim shops because they knew it would look damaging on TV? I heard it was a different story when those same kids began to approach a nearby Walmart. Stay woke.

Usually a few people get killed in a riot. There was a riot in East St. Louis in the early 20th century that was supposedly the most bloody of all the US race riots. Over 300 people were killed, in a town where probably not very many people live. It’s a ghost town now. With strip clubs.

This riot in Ferguson has been going on for the past few nights, and so far no one has been killed. That’s probably a record low for Ferguson in August. If someone does get killed, it’ll probably be by the police. Duh.

But here’s my concern: If the police have been ineffective in protecting area businesses, and the only people getting hurt are the people getting hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, why the fuck are the police even there? The city would arguably be better off without them there, with literally zero police presence.

People didn’t start burning down gas stations and what have you until the damn storm troopers showed up. They were gathered there peacefully mourning the kid’s death and observing the cops as they pretended to investigate. They started tearing shit up because they got pissed off, and they got pissed off because a kid got shot and 5–0's response was to send a shedload more (white) people with guns there.

Burning down their own neighborhood didn’t serve much of a purpose… except that it did. A lot of people came up on rims this week, and even if they don’t have a car to put those rims on, they can sell those rims and probably flip that money on some cocaine. Area police are too busy firing tear gas cannisters at grieving black people standing in their own backyards to sweat someone out here trying to make a few dollars hustling. I might commit a crime myself, if I can think of anything, just because this would be the time to do it.

Images of Mike Brown lying dead in the street for hours on end and racist white cops siccing dogs on people as if this were Selma, AL, 1965 spread in the media, and now the FBI is investigating. President Obama even went on Twitter and said he was feeling sorry for the poor kid’s family, a good three days after the fact. The president doesn’t like to get involved with these race incidents, because it alienates his white constituency. There was no riot when Eric Garner got choked out, and the FBI aren’t investigating.

Whether or not an FBI investigation here in the STL will do any good remains to be seen. We know, from any number of cliche cop films, that local police departments can’t stand the FBI, but that’s more so because cops don’t like being subservient to anyone. That’s why they became cops in the first place—to order people around. They’re still upset about being in the 46th percentile of their high school graduating class, and now they’re gonna take it out on black people.

The last thing local cops need is for the FBI to find out they’ve been selling drugs, or busting teenage prostitutes and letting them get out of jail the old fashioned way. I’ve seen Bad Lieutenant, I know how these people operate. But otherwise, the FBI are just cops like Ferguson PD and County Brown. How can they know what happened any better than the people in the comments section at World Star, when they weren’t even there when the shit happened?

It could be worse though. We could have just let Ferguson PD and County Brown investigate themselves—which is what they would have done otherwise. Something tells me the results of their investigation would have been consistent with Officer Coon’s version of events (or whatever his name is). Ideally, the investigation would have been conducted by a group of old racist black men sitting in lawn chairs on a front porch, the wisest people in America.


National media coverage of the Mike Brown shooting and the ensuing riots hasn’t been any better than what I could have provided by going over there with a cell phone. Literally, you get the sense that they’re sending one guy there with a cell phone, and he doesn’t even know his way around. He doesn’t know for a fact that he’s even in Ferguson. He might be over in Pine Lawn somewhere. Just because there’s gun shots going off doesn’t mean it’s a riot.

I notice both local and national media reports seem to be drawing heavily from people on Twitter. First they just read random shit someone typed on Twitter. Then they issue a disclaimer that these are unconfirmed reports based on social media postings and hence not to be trusted, as if that somehow makes them superior to random hoodrats on Twitter, when they’re sourcing their reporting from the very same hoodrats.

It took reporters from either of the coasts a couple of days to get here, and then once they did 5–0 told them they weren’t allowed to report on the riots. The New York Times can send people into battle in Iraq, sure, but damn it if they won’t be following orders from some numbnuts from County Brown.

Of course I was reminded of when international media and aid organizations were forced out of Gaza ahead of Operation Cast Lead, five years ago. Did they do the same thing with Operation Protective Edge? Truth be told, I haven’t been paying as much attention. This has been a wild-ass summer. And that might be why Israel decided to strike—people were distracted. Similarly, they shelled the shit out of Gaza in the few-week span before Obama took office in early ‘09.

Prediction: The police told the media to leave because they didn’t want people to see what they were about to do. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was terrible, and we’ll be hearing about it. The police will swear up and down that it didn’t happen. If only there’d been someone there recording.

The Riverfront Times, St. Louis’ equivalent of the Village Voice, on the one hand scored points by filming a video of cops firing tear gas on people standing in their own backyard—literally, the cops fired tear gas into these people’s yard. A dog could have been harmed, and then maybe PETA would have gotten involved. Maybe Anonymous can turn up pics of one of the cops’ wives in a fur coat.

But then on the other hand the RFT ran a blog post on Mike Brown’s “gangster rap lyrics.” Mike Brown had been a rapper for quite literally all of two weeks when he got shot, if his SoundCloud is any indication. His very last song was uploaded a mere matter of days before. He sounds like Chief Keef or Wacka Flocka or someone. I don’t know enough about that kind of rap to say for certain. But nothing about his music really suggests he’s some menace to society.

He’s got songs about how he’s on his grind, which I guess could be interpreted (by a cop) to mean he was selling drugs. He definitely wasn’t original. But he’s also got songs about how he’s proud to have graduated high school for his parents. That might be the least hip-hop thing that ever happened. Drake wishes he could come up with something as inauthentic.

The term gangster rap has since been edited out of the post’s title, with no note or anything to indicate that it was ever there in the first place. If they’d left it there, I could almost let this slide as more a matter of outdated terminology than anything else, but nah. I’m pretty sure this was culture vulturedom. I might run it by Damon Dash and see what he thinks.

What difference would it have made, anyway, if all of his songs were about smacking bitches and popping a cap in a dreaded n-word’s ass? I could do without any more stories on how he was set to start college the day after he was killed. Just because someone doesn’t plan to do shit with their life doesn’t mean the cops should be allowed to kill them. I went to college—a real school, not Vatterot—and I haven’t done shit ever since. It takes more than a degree to find meaningful work. This is America. You gotta have the complexion for the protection.

Any attempts to make him a more sympathetic figure for white viewers were rendered moot once Robin Williams died. I’m surprised this shit is still on the news. This is no offense to my white readers, who I’m sure are deeply alienated if they’re reading this far along, but it’s obvious they didn’t give a shit in the first place. How awkward was it to watch half your TL plotting against the police, as if this really were The Revolution, and the other half continue right on talking about pro wrestling or whatever.

Ignoring this shit altogether still would have been preferable to trying to capitalize on it. I’m seeing a lot of people out here pulling that move where you post continuous updates on the situation as if you’re there reporting live, knowing good and well you aren’t anywhere near Ferguson, copying pics and videos from people there on the scene to try to drive favs and retweets, doing all kinds of grandstanding, announcing their bold new agenda for the black community from the comfy confines of their moms’ basements. All that shit is disgraceful.

Twitter is a damn cesspool regardless of when you go on there. I shouldn’t go on there period. Witnessing that level of cynicism and desperation is bad for your mental health.

Social media opportunism, grandstanding and white people’s general lack of concern for dead black children vis-à-vis pets that have been left out in the rain and depressed celebrities all culminated in Anonymous putting Ferguson PD and County Brown on notice. Either the cops are gonna have to promise to stop shooting unarmed black people, or else Anonymous is gonna wreak havoc on their lives, they threatened—which I took to mean that Anonymous plans to attack the cops.

Tuesday afternoon, an Anonymous Twitter account, of which there are many, threatened to release Police Chief Jon Belmar’s daughter’s personal information if he didn’t name the cop who shot Mike Brown. He gave the cop one hour to respond. But then SJW types caught wind of it and put the kibosh on that shit. They actually accomplished something. It was one thing when they all but threatened to kill the cop who pulled the trigger, once they find out who he is, but there’s no need to be disrespectful to women. Just because a black kid is lying dead on the street, doesn’t mean a white kid’s Twitter should be compromised. Robin Williams just died!

Three days after the kid got killed, I’ve yet to hear a rap song about it. If this were 2001, some bum mixtape rapper would have at least used Mike Brown’s name as an inappropriate punchline. We’re somehow moving backwards technologically. One of the promises of all this digital technology is that rappers would be able to record protest songs in damn near real time; the same day an unarmed black man was killed by the police a rapper could record and release a song complaining about it. Instead, all we’ve got is people recording their own versions of “Hot Nigga” by Bobby Shmurda.

If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about hip-hop circa 2014, I don’t know what would. You know who’s really a hot nigga? A black kid lying dead in the street for hours on end, in August in St. Louis. I know, I know… terrible.

I should be more upset, both with my own writing and with hip-hop, but what difference would it make? The fact of the matter is, hip-hop doesn’t speak for the black community anymore. It’s not a reflection of what we’re thinking, it’s a reflection of how white people want us to look. Go on Twitter and try to find one black kid who isn’t bitching and moaning about Ferguson. And it’s been like that all summer long. Meanwhile, what’s the rap song of the summer? “Fancy?” “Anaconda?” “Hot Nigga?” Those songs don’t effectively capture the zeitgeist.

Used to be, rap music was the CNN for black people. Now actual CNN is the CNN for black people, at least compared to rap music. 25 years ago, when all of the exact same shit was happening, it seems, we had “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. Now we’ve got a guy named Peter Rosenberg on Hot 97 talking about how he’s done more for hip-hop than Chuck D ever did. This shit is over. It was fun while it lasted but that’s it. We sold it, and we didn’t even get enough money to move to an area where you can walk in the street without getting shot by the police. Nice neighborhoods don’t even have sidewalks. Either you walk in the street or you’d be walking on someone’s lawn. The cops hardly ever drive by, and they could give a fuck if they did.

All this talk about passing a law stating that the police are no longer allowed to shoot unarmed black kids, about the FBI investigating County Brown, which itself is supposedly investigating Ferguson PD, mofos on Twitter talking about how it’s time for black people to rise up, so on and so forth, is all fine and dandy, but our only real hope for protection from the police is to come up financially—and obviously that’s not about to happen, at least not for all of us. The system is not designed for everyone to come up financially. Therefore, I’m at a loss for a solution that doesn’t involve a complete overthrow of said system.

Theoretically, I mean. The last thing I need is the police kicking my door down thinking I’m in here fomenting revolution. The only revolution I’m fomenting involves twerk videos.

Byron Crawford is the author of five books, including the forthcoming Kanye West Superstar, out 8/18 in paperback and ebook and now available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Sign up for his weekly email newsletter Life in a Shanty Town.

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