Tech + Health

08.14.14

Embarrassment, Fear, and Anger: Ferguson's Emotional Whispers

In the midst of riots in Ferguson, Missouri, some residents took to secret-sharing app Whisper to vent.

On Wednesday night, protests over the death of an unarmed teen devolved into chaos as the police force in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters and journalists alike. The death of 18-year-old Mike Brown on Saturday triggered outrage in the town and beyond, where many suspect the recent high school grad’s death was racially motivated.

Details of the scene trickling in over social media painted a harrowing picture of a police force—armed in full combat gear with tanks in tow—unwilling to let reporters do their jobs. Al Jazeera journalists that attempted to set up a livestream of Wednesday night’s events had tear gas fired at them, followed by police dismantling their equipment. Reporters Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of the The Huffington Post were taken into police custody and then, they say, released without explanation. Antonio French, a citizen journalist and alderman of the 21st ward in St. Louis, was also detained.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a no-fly zone over the town because “we have multiple helicopters maneuvering in the area and we were having some problems with news aircrafts flying around there,” according to one dispatcher.

As some Iraq war veterans have noted, “in terms of its equipment, organization, and deployment methods, the Ferguson force looks more like an infantry or military police company in Iraq.”

In a news conference on Thursday, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson defended the tactics used to control the crowds on Wednesday, saying that “gunfire” and “fire bombs” came from the protesters, prompting police responses “based on the threat of violence.” He did add that “we need to have everybody tone it down” and that authorities are “meeting to evaluate tactics.” 

Citizens of Ferguson and its surrounding cities reacted to news of the violence over social media, including secret-sharing app Whisper, anonymously venting their fears, frustrations, and even embarrassment at the events taking place. As Slade Sohmer, Whisper’s head of news service, explained to The Daily Beast, the application uses “multiple back-end tools” to “double and triple check the whereabouts and credibility of each user.”

One user expressed frustration at his or her family’s reaction to the clashes:

My family is full of racists and cop lovers. Hearing them talk about the situation in Ferguson is making me crazy.

One St. Louis cop hated to see the violence between his townsfolk and his colleagues:

My husband is an officer here. He is so upset by what's going on.

A student from St. Louis’s Grantwood Village found the situation embarrassing:

I'm a native of STL, and I'm now dreading going back to school and being the person people ask about the riots. They're embarrassing.

Another St. Louis native was also ashamed:

I love my city but tonight I was embarrassed and scared #ferguson #stl

One user sympathized with the protesters’ anger:

im not a cop but I do live about 20 mins outside of Ferguson. people are upset because there is no justice. there was no reason to empty a clip on an unarmed kid

Another still was disturbed at the seemingly retrograde nature of the riots:

History is repeating itself. How scary is it that we have gone backwards 50 years, and race riots still occur. My work was put on high alert because we are close to the riots in Ferguson, and schools were closed because of it. Really?

One user thinks “they,” presumably the protesters, should be thrown in prison:

I live in saint louis and it's not the police at all.. it's not even a legal protest .. they should all be in jail.. and that's coming from a black guy himself

Prayers from St. Louis natives also poured in:

 What is going on in Ferguson is despicable. I'm praying for St. Louis tonight. My home town is supposed to be  beautiful, not deadly.

“Out of hand” is one phrase for it:

Stay safe in Ferguson people! This is getting really out of hand.

One user couldn’t sleep for fear of violence:

i couldnt sleep last night because of the ferguson riots... i was scared because i thought theyd get closer to me

Meanwhile, another (extremely well-armed) user lost no sleep at all:

Everyone is scared of the riots, I sleep just fine with my 3 mastiffs 4 rifles 5 shotguns and 2 pistols.

Another user interprets the fear of being attacked on Ferguson streets as a sign of cowardice (while using an image of former Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson for inspiration):

I'm tired of everybody being fucking pussies about ferguson. Grow some balls and go outside. You aren't 7!

And other users still just wish the whole thing were over already:

My family has been arguing about the situation in Ferguson since Monday morning. I really wish they would stop.

This user is a native of Florrissant, a suburb less than five miles from Ferguson:

Ya. I live in Florissant is scary cops everywhere

And another user spoke peaceful words of wisdom:

Prayers for Ferguson, Mo. Violence met with violence will never solve anything.