Ferguson Store Owners: ‘The Government, They Weren’t There For Us’

By Brittany M. Hughes | December 10, 2014 | 1:05 PM EST

(CNSNews.com) -- In the aftermath of the violent riots that broke out following a grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, storeowners in the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., say they’re almost as angry at their state government as they are with the looters who vandalized, robbed, and destroyed their stores.

Facing the task of either rebuilding their stores or having to close their doors entirely, most owners said they were promised protection that never came -- and are now waiting on help they do not expect and apparently cannot count on.

“We haven’t received one call from the state or the governor’s office at all -- not one,” said Kurt Barks, owner of Complete Auto Body and Repair in Ferguson, one of dozens of businesses that were trashed and robbed in the hours following the grand jury’s decision.

Another store owner, Nigerian immigrant Idowu Ajibola, told CNSNews.com, “This is ground zero. This is where the first violence happened. I would have assumed, I would have thought it would have been the first place they would have tried to protect.”

But “the government, they weren’t there for us,” he said. “They weren’t there for us at all -- not the first time around, not the second time around, even after they promised that they would.”

Businesses torched by rioters in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) held a press conference only hours before the grand jury’s decision on Nov. 24, in which he explained he had visited with Ferguson residents and assured them the state would be putting resources and manpower in place to help keep calm and order in their city.

“Together, we are all focused on making sure the necessary resources are at hand to protect lives, protect property and protect free speech,” Nixon said.

“State and local law enforcement agencies are continuing to work hand-in-hand to make sure the best, most experienced officers are on the street,” he said. “The men and women of the National Guard will also be in the area to provide security at critical facilities like firehouses, police stations, and utility substations and offer logistical and transportation support as needed. This will help free up law enforcement officers to do their jobs effectively.”

“I’d like to reiterate my call for peace, respect and restraint,” Nixon added.

Jay Nixon, the Democratic governor of Missouri. (AP)

Then, in the hours following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson, at least a dozen business were torched by looters and violent protesters, and even more businesses were broken into and vandalized.

Left to clean up the mess, small business owners in the small city of 52,000 say they feel Nixon’s promise of protection and safety was broken, leaving many Ferguson residents to watch helplessly as their livelihoods were destroyed.

On top of feeling abandoned as looters ransacked their businesses, many store owners say they have yet to receive the first helping hand from those who promised to protect them.

Idowu Ajibola is a Nigerian immigrant who owns a small pharmacy only a few blocks from where Brown was shot and killed. His business was heavily vandalized in the first round of violent riots in August.

A vandalized store in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

As the grand jury’s announcement grew closer and closer, Ajibola told CNSNews.com he was given reassurances by state and local officials that his business would be protected if violence broke out once again.

“They told us we were well prepared for the second time around,” he said. “We went to a series of meetings.”

But as anger gave way to chaos following the grand jury’s announcement that fateful Monday night, Ajibola said he watched with fear and anxiety as store after store was destroyed before his eyes on television, including his own shop. The help he was promised never came, he said.

Two weeks later, Ajibola, who estimates he’s sustained about $500,000 in losses and damages from the riots, said he still hasn’t heard from the state government or local officials about any offers to help rebuild.

“The state and the city has not come up with anything so far,” Ajibola said. “I think absolutely they should. Number one is that for the primary reason that, as you can see, they didn’t provide any security at this particular point.”

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“This is ground zero. This is where the first violence happened. I would have assumed, I would have thought it would have been the first place they would have tried to protect,” he added. “The government, they weren’t there for us. They weren’t there for us at all -- not the first time around, not the second time around, even after they promised that they would.”

In the week following the riots and destruction, Nixon sought to explain his decision not to send the National Guard into Ferguson until after midnight by saying he “didn`t want to have a Kent State situation,” according to a report from Fox 2 Now in St. Louis.

“No, what I'm saying is, the plan was that the law enforcement officers who have been trained would be out on the front lines,” Nixon said, the report stated. “You didn’t want to have a Kent State situation. You certainly didn't want to have a situation where Guardsmen who had only been there a few hours, who had not been used to the very kinetic atmosphere of people throwing things, screaming things at the very front tip of that spear. That was the plan. I think it has prevented loss of life.”

According to the report, some 1,500 National Guardsmen were stationed nearby, ready to go whenever the call came down from the governor’s office.

The article also described how one guardsman told a reporter, “We were watching, on TV and smart phones, the city burn, while we stood by ready.”

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For business owners like Barks, who said he was told beforehand that his business would not be affected by violence that might spring up in the wake of the announcement, Nixon’s explanation isn’t good enough to make up for the thousands of dollars in damages, and the worst month of business Bark’s store has seen in the 16 years it’s been open.

“We were promised a week before his happened, don’t worry, we’ll have National Guard on your property, we’ll have protection for your property,” Barks told CNSNews.com. “Nothing like that happened. They were there 24 hours late.”

“A hundred percent blame can fall on the committee, the governor, the state,” Barks added. “However and whatever they planned didn’t work. If you look at our videos that night, you’ll see that all it took was one guy standing out there defending it, and this wouldn’t have happened.”

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Kimily Douf, manager of the African Depot Plaza, a hair and beauty supply store, said she hasn’t gotten a single phone call from state or local officials offering help after her shop was completely ransacked and the building vandalized by looters. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, Douf is afraid she might be out of a job if the store’s owner decides to close – a situation she said she was told was not going to happen.

“We met with a couple of officials that told us we wouldn’t have that problem, the second time as far as the businesses being vandalized and looted,” Douf told CNSNews.com. “They told us they were well-prepared.”

Cameraman Corwin Parks contributed to this story.

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