Seven months on, Ferguson shooting takes its toll

FERGUSON, United States (AFP) - Seven months under the wrong kind of spotlight is taking its toll on Ferguson as it tries to move past the dark shadow cast by the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Nightly - and largely peaceful - protests outside Ferguson's police station have become a fixture in the St. Louis suburb of 21,000, two-thirds of them African Americans.

But Wednesday night's shooting of two police officers has only added to the strain of a community that sorely wants to move forward, even as many regret how the white police officer who fatally shot Mr Brown in August escaped prosecution.

Typical is Susan Brown, who opened her Children's City discount clothes shop three months before the death of her namesake - they're not related - and the national debate on police and race relations that it ignited.

Business was brisk when Mr Brown opened her doors, but she told AFP on Friday that since August she calculates that monthly turnover has fallen as much as 70 percent.

"I love Ferguson. I think I have a great location," said the shopkeeper, who also owns rental property in the town, although her own home is in another St. Louis suburb.

"But since Mike Brown, business has gone down almost to a half - but we are still here."

- 'Anger in their hearts' -

Customers from neighboring St. Louis suburbs are not coming, she said, because "they are still scared that anything might break out at any moment. They don't want to get caught up in any chaos." "Most of the people are peaceful protesters," added the 53-year-old black entrepreneur, who also has a shop in St. Louis proper, selling children's garments for half price.

"You might have a few people that come in that have anger in their hearts, but they don't represent a whole race."

Few were surprised last week when the US Justice Department said it lacked evidence to prosecute Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on federal rights charges in connection with Brown's death.

Wilson, no longer with the overwhelmingly white municipal force, had already been cleared by a grand jury after he testified that he had acted in self-defense.

But in harsh terms, the Justice Department faulted Ferguson for using its police department and court to shake down African Americans for fines and fees to replenish municipal coffers.

Ferguson's police chief, town manager, two police officers and municipal judge have since resigned, while a city employee was sacked in connection with racist-flavored emails.

- 'Invalid, inhumane' -

"The Department of Justice unanimously agreed that the system Darren Wilson was part of is corrupt, is invalid, is inhumane," said DeMarco Davidson, a Ferguson activist and trustee of the Michael Brown Memorial Fund.

"But yet Darren Wilson is okay and that still is an issue for us," Davidson told AFP on the sidelines of Thursday's protest, which drew at its peak about 200 people - watched by two to three dozen police officers and a greater number of journalists.

Davidson vowed that "the movement" - which includes a number of young white Americans who participated in the 2011 Occupy protests - would endure, as Ferguson takes its place in the annals of the US civil rights movement.

"The old system is not successful - that's one of the biggest things," he said. "Now is the chance to get people in there who actually speak on the behalf of the people of Ferguson, to hopefully make some changes."

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