Restoring Faith in Humanity in Ferguson

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In the last several weeks we have seen in many cases the worst of humanity. Anger has poured out of Ferguson – anger in the streets of Ferguson, distrust in the handling of the situation by police and other authorities, and racial polarization.

But in every tragedy we see the spirit of humanity – its best provinces – emerge and that is the story that my Aunt, Toby Epstein, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, Missouri, tells:

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My Aunt, Toby Epstein, on the right in the white hat and shirt

Sometimes the stars are in the heavens in the proper configuration, and sometimes we are just doing holy work whether we realize it or not.

I am a walking nut. I walk five mornings a week trying to walk 9 miles before stopping. What makes this so much fun is that I walk in our neighborhood park, where everyone is friendly. Over the years, a very diverse group of women, and one dog, have joined forces walking together and becoming very good friends. We have even worked on political campaigns together.

Being a resident of St. Louis County, and some of us having African-American sons, we took the Ferguson mess very hard. We wanted to do something. So, last Monday, while walking, we decided to have a food drive on Friday. Since the park is our area and it is center of our town, we knew that we needed permission to use it for a drop off spot for the food drive.

It was sometime Tuesday morning before a meeting was held between our group and the City Manager and Police Chief. They loved the idea, and offered to let the community know via email. We knew we had only Wednesday and Thursday to get the word out. Signs were made, handouts printed and plastered on utility poles, and below stop signs. In addition, we handed a handout to every person walking in the park.

Friday came, we got to the park about 6 AM and set up, pulling over two picnic tables, and putting up a canopy to protect from the 98+ temperatures predicted. Before 7 our first donor showed up, and they never stopped.

One of our first visitors was a police officer warning us to watch out for the heat, and asking if we had enough water for ourselves. By then the bottled water was coming in, but none of us had thought about extra water for ourselves. A half an hour later, another police car shows up, pulls out a cooler filled with ice and bottled water. Alongside the cooler was another case of bottled water, with the instruction to donate the extra if we didn’t need it.

For the next five hours, car after car came and delivered more and more food to our cause. One policeman from another city brought a case of diapers, the police chief’s wife brought six bags of food she had collected in her neighborhood. Soon, both picnic tables were filled with food, and we were struggling to sort it out so the food pantry wouldn’t have to. We had been given the phone number of one of the officers, and soon a delivery of empty boxes arrived.

Another person delivering food saw our need, and ran to the local grocery store coming back with more boxes. A few people stopped their cars, asked what was needed, and then came back with what we needed. Canned meats, diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, tooth brushes, you name it, it appeared.

As it became obvious that the trunks of our cars wouldn’t even begin to hold all the food we were collecting, our town again came to the rescue. The Fire Chief and City Manager volunteered two city trucks for the delivery, and five firemen and several police officers to help load the food and give us rides to the Pantry.

One police officer said that this showed that people weren’t blaming the citizens of Ferguson for the looting. I can’t tell you the number of people who thanked us for doing the drive, and for some of them, this was said with tears in their eyes, they were so emotional about what was happening in Ferguson. We are all community, and it felt like it.

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The best was yet to come. As the police and firemen joined us in sorting, we had the world’s best surprise. About 5 to 12, we see the entire 4th grade class of the local elementary school crossing the street, and in each hand was a bag of food.

As they crossed the street, the adults had tears in our eyes, and as they entered the park, the chief of police shook hands with each child. As they put their bags down, they were invited by the Fire Chief to come look at the fire engine.

This small food drive had quickly become a community activity and it felt great. As I watched the policemen and firemen interacting with our children, I knew that community policing was what they were doing. Kids have a great fake radar – if the police or firemen were putting on an act because we were there, the kids wouldn’t have reacted to them as they did.

After the trucks were packed, several of our group went with them to deliver the food. As it turns out, they went to Canfield Apts. which was ground zero for all activities. They had had to close the Pantry about a half an hour before with the shelves being bare. Now, they were able to open their doors again.

This is the great side of St. Louis, people reaching out to each other, sometimes not knowing what to do, but wanting to do something. We thought we would be happy if four or five people besides our group contributed. We kept telling each other, “It is what it is.”

But, people were looking for some way to reach out to people who were suffering, and showing them they cared. We had everyone who stopped by sign a card to give with the food. Am I proud of doing the drive, yes, but that isn’t what really moved me, the drive wasn’t a lot of work, and just a few hours. What moved me was how our community reached out, and by word of mouth, signs, and emails, came together to show people that they care. The kids, they were the cherry on the top.

Has anyone had an experience where they were blown away by the compassion of others?

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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40 Comments

  1. Pingback: On second thought... - EverythingSG.com

      1. Davis Progressive

        why does my take detract from the greatness of the story? the police in olivette were commendable in their approach and they likely made a good impression not only on the kids but the community.

        1. Barack Palin

          You just had to spin that they SEEM embarrassed and disapproving of the conduct of the Ferguson police when you have no clue if they are or not. That would be like someone saying it seems like the police are showing that they have faith in their local citizens in spite of MB’s actions and the Ferguson rioters, which spin would also be BS.

          1. Davis Progressive

            i don’t have no clue if they are or not – i have spoken to quite a few police officers in the past fews during the course of my job and most of them ARE embarrassed for the conduct of ferguson. you’re correct i don’t know whether these particular officer were or were not, i did infer from their behavior that they were.

          2. TrueBlueDevil

            Your statement is hard to believe. I’ve spoken to two officers, and they’ve said we have yet to hear the facts and context, so any analysis we do is pure speculation.

            It is just as plausible that the officer acted prudently if his eye orbital were smashed in an attack by Brown, a 290-pound young man. A consistent report is that the officer was attacked before he even exited his car, and that the suspect tried to take his gun from him, and the gun dislodged a round in his police car. If so, the riots and media comments really start to look like lynch-mob mentality.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Yes, the America I know, but then you add your unproven allegation. Couldn’t the police simply be caring and compassionate?

      BTW, if it is proven that the officer was badly beaten (broken eye socket, etc.), will you offer a mea culpa?

      1. Barack Palin

        “BTW, if it is proven that the officer was badly beaten (broken eye socket, etc.), will you offer a mea culpa?”

        I guarantee you TBD, if that’s the case there won’t be any followup Vanguard stories or mea culpas.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i have nothing to do with whether there’s any follow up vanguard stories, but my comment has more to do with the conduct of the police on the streets of ferguson than whether the officer himself acted appropriately.

  2. Frankly

    Great story that brings a smile and makes everyone feel good.

    I knew that community policing was what they were doing. Kids have a great fake radar – if the police or firemen were putting on an act because we were there, the kids wouldn’t have reacted to them as they did.

    So is the inference here that Ferguson police do not engage in community policing? Do we know this, or are we just assuming?

    About a week ago, the St. Louis police shot and killed a 23 year old black man wielding a knife.

    That is the thing about policing… there is the other part of the job that brings a frown and does not feel good.

    The question is can a community balance their response to the realities of the job that police are sworn to do? Can they celebrate the feel-good community outreach while they also rationally process and accept the darker side of policing?

    My relatives that have worked in law enforcement have commented to me that they are forced to work with parts of the community that their most vocal critics never really touch. They are more often criticized by people the least knowledgeable of what the job entails and what challenges police face on a regular basis.

    From my perspective, if these same people so quick and loud to criticize what they consider to be bad police work would direct anything close to equitable outrage at bad teaching, there would be far fewer of these terrible encounters.

    1. wdf1

      Frankly: My relatives that have worked in law enforcement have commented to me that they are forced to work with parts of the community that their most vocal critics never really touch. They are more often criticized by people the least knowledgeable of what the job entails and what challenges police face on a regular basis.

      I can accept that. I also think there a components of that statement (“They are more often criticized by people the least knowledgeable of what the job entails”) that apply to you in your criticisms of education.

      1. Frankly

        that apply to you in your criticisms of education.

        Possibly, but the difference is that I have been a student. I have taught. I have lived among economically disadvantaged. I have had kids attending the schools.

        So I think I am possibly more knowledgeable about the job and shortcomings of education in general than are people that complain the most loudly about police are knowledgeable about the role and job of law enforcement.

        But your point is valid. I know if I had the time and would spend more of it in the classroom I would develop more empathy and support for individual teachers. I think the same would be true for people doing a lot of ride-alongs with cops working some of the bad areas of our cities.

        But we should not let empathy for individual actors cloud our judgement of the quality of the play.

        I view the primary “play” of law enforcement to keep the law-breaker from materially adversely impacting the law-abiding. I view the primary play of education to successful prepare students for the next life-step. And if we want to say that a valid next life step is to become a criminal, then the education system as designed should be lauded.

        1. wdf1

          Frankly: I view the primary play of education to successful prepare students for the next life-step. And if we want to say that a valid next life step is to become a criminal, then the education system as designed should be lauded.

          So you’d like to evaluate the education system based on how many Americans are convicted or not? And if the crime rate in the U.S. has been falling over the past couple of decades, should we then laud the education system for improving?

          1. Frankly

            Now come on wdf1. First, you need to calculate the demographics for crime and punishment. Next you have to look at the reasons that crime has fallen… and you can see that by counting the people in prison. Three strikes and a greater emphasis on law enforcement since the 1980s and early 1990s when the social issue people cared about was escalating crime.

            Basically the crappy education system cranks out illiterate drop-outs that cannot get a job, so they resort to crime. Now we capture and lock up more of them.

            How about that for education outcome? Not only do you get a crappy education that results in crappy job prospects, but we increase the probability that you will go to prison.

          2. TrueBlueDevil

            Frankly, you just can’t blame the schools, we now have children having children, which is a huge issue. We are also importing millions of individuals with no history with formal education, and now Governor Brown wants to invite more here, legal or illegal.

            Our schools in Granite Bay, Saratoga, and Palo Alto probably score as well as public schools in Sweden and Japan.

          3. wdf1

            TBD: Our schools in Granite Bay, Saratoga, and Palo Alto probably score as well as public schools in Sweden and Japan.

            If you want to use scores, then Davis High School is, by one set of scores, the highest scoring traditional comprehensive high school in Northern California (defined roughly as Sacramento and north). Comprehensive high schools take anyone who walks in the door. There are two who score higher, University Prep in Redding and West Campus in Sac., which are either charter (University) or magnet (West Campus), and screen out students preferably in certain ways. DHS also finished ahead of Granite Bay.

            source

            But that’s if you want to use standardized tests in some way as a measure the quality of education in a district. There are many in Davis who want to see that. I’m skeptical about using it as the ultimate measure, but I think there are also plenty of other qualities that recommend Davis schools besides this.

            More than just being teen parents or recent immigrants, the common factor to higher and lower performing schools is the degree of poverty present, and the kind of home environment that usually comes with it. Making the instruction more rigorous will not compensate by itself for symptoms of poverty. Introducing “wrap-around” social services and supplemental education programs — after school tutoring, summer enrichment, adult ed., health services, extra counselling, food bank resources, etc. — in support of education will produce better results.

          4. Frankly

            TBD: Frankly, you just can’t blame the schools, we now have children having children, which is a huge issue. We are also importing millions of individuals with no history with formal education, and now Governor Brown wants to invite more here, legal or illegal.

            Here is the way I look at it. We have a population of children that need to be educated to become functioning adults that can take care of themselves and maybe a few of them to do well enough to help take care of others.

            It is what it is.

            The schools, nor the political party protecting the teachers unions, should be allowed this excuse that our social problems preclude them from being successful achieving the outcomes. If the system does not meet the needs of our children because we have children having children and because we are allowing a flood of new poor and uneducated, then we need a new system.

            We need a new system that breaks the cycle of crappy eugenics and moves people forward so that they are not making the same repetitive life-mistakes as their parents and their previous generations of relatives.

            Education is not only the best opportunity for a solution, it along with a robust growing economy is the ONLY solution. Otherwise we are just bags of hot wind complaining about all the reasons why things are so bad.

            The education system is not to blame for the crappy state of our society that gives us so many troubled youth. The education system is to blame for its refusal to reform to meet the needs of a society having so many troubled youth.

            The education system is holding out to just demand more money, but we already have copious evidence that there is zero correlation between education outcomes and the amount of money spent per student. States spending less do much better. Countries spending less do much better.

            It is the design of the system. It needs to be blown up and reformed. the more we delay, the more kids end up without a positive future.

          5. Frankly

            The teen birth rate has been dropping for years.

            “Children having children”

            Who said anything about teens?

          6. wdf1

            Frankly: Who said anything about teens?

            TBD, here. So if teen birth rates have been dropping for years, do we get to laud the U.S. education system?

          7. Frankly

            “Children” is a relative term in my context. It means a human that has not developed to adult capability.

          8. wdf1

            Frankly: The education system is holding out to just demand more money, but we already have copious evidence that there is zero correlation between education outcomes and the amount of money spent per student. States spending less do much better. Countries spending less do much better.

            But there is a strong correlation between childhood poverty and certain educational outcomes. So it depends on whether one spends the money adequately addressing those issues on targeted “wrap-around services” (such as a mentioned here).

            It is interesting that there is a political narrative (that you seem to find affinity with) which says that if the crime rate goes up, then it’s appropriate to spend more money on law enforcement, never mind that many law enforcement belong to public employee unions. But if education indicators go in the wrong direction, it’s not appropriate to spend any more money education, because that’s just responding to greedy teachers who belong to a public employee’s union.

            It would be refreshing to see some consistency in your arguments. Additionally, if teachers’ unions are bad for American education, then it would be helpful to see a good correlation between strong collective bargaining states and poor student outcomes (hint: the correlation doesn’t exist).

          9. wdf1

            TEST SCORES ≠ ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE

            Each time new national and international assessment results show that U.S. students are performing at mediocre levels, dozens of education pundits make dire claims about the nation’s education system and economic competitiveness. In their view, the stagnant assessment scores foretell an impending economic decline and threaten the nation’s global competitiveness. A closer look at assessment and economic data, however, show that this is simply not the case.

            I mention this, because it is the typical premise for arguing for one reform agenda or another, from NCLB to Common Core, from vouchers to private charter schools.

          10. TrueBlueDevil

            Without any data in front of me, my guess would be that a poor immigrant family from Asia or elsewhere who focus on education, and who have a 2-parent family unit, fare better. Like the Vietnamese-Americans. But take a 17-year-old girl who gets knocked up by a 30-year-old gang banger, their odds are quite different. They are both living in poverty, but I’ve seen the former group usually do much better than the later group.

            I’ve read that fifty percent of our households living in poverty are single parent female-headed families. That single parent will have far less time, attention, resources, money, and structure to hep their children succeed. I’m open to studies that prove otherwise, Murphy Brown not being proof.

      1. Frankly

        Ha! Now that is funny. Is it a plastic badge and a marshmallow gun?

        I don’t have a badge, but I do own several guns. And I have never been a cop, but I have close family that have had careers in law enforcement. you cannot help but learn the truth about that job having loved ones doing the job.

        But I cannot remember… do you complain loudly and quickly about the police?

          1. Frankly

            I thought only Texas DAs were packing? You mean here in warm and fuzzy hippie land we have our DAs carrying a gun too?

            I think a lawyer with a concealed weapon might be the most dangerous person in the free world. 😉

          2. tj

            Davis Progressive:

            Are you required to carry at all times, or always at work, or when?

            Why carry? You can arrest people, or …..what?

          3. Davis Progressive

            i don’t believe i’ve ever worn the gun. i’ve never arrested anyone. it’s more symbolic that anything else ironically enough

  3. Don Shor

    Wonderful story, thank you. Too bad the comment section couldn’t retain the positive feeling.

    Has anyone had an experience where they were blown away by the compassion of others?

    I remember that after Katrina hit, a local radio personality on KFBK mentioned that people could ‘drop off’ donations at the station, which at that time was in a little set of offices near Cal Expo. They were overwhelmed. People came, and kept coming, and they started commenting they had no idea how to get the stuff to New Orleans. So a truck leasing company called to offer trucks, and drivers volunteered. By the time I went in early Sunday morning to do a gardening show, the halls were stacked and jammed with goods, there were two full semi trucks in the parking lot, and people were still coming in to drop stuff.
    When you ask, people will give.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i don’t think playing cumbaya helps us a great deal. it’s a wonderful story as is the story that you relate of katrina, but also know what happened to the poor people of new orleans despite those efforts. i’d rather focus on real issues.

      1. Biddlin

        I’ll bet it’s no fun around your hearth at Xmas time. Do you add a PETA memo to Rudolf? lol.
        By the way, group singing is a wonderful way to build teamwork and community and has been recognised as such for millennia. I really am starting to doubt your town’s boisterous claims of civility and educational achievement. I for one appreciate “People helping people” and “reconciliation” stories and though, not surprised, am disappointed that the usual suspects took this as just another opportunity to beat their desultory drums and sound their cacophonous klaxons.
        ;>)/

  4. Offering Balance

    When I read the title, “Restoring Faith in Humanity in Ferguson” I thought it would be about righting the worst display of humanity in Ferguson, the looting and destruction of local businesses. I hoped the story would be about all the looters coming back to repair the businesses they destroyed.

    I do commend Ms Epstien’s efforts as I am sure they are needed. I wish I had been able to participate in the food drive.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      This is a vicious cycle that feeds upon itself, and then “the community” will spend years gnashing their teeth, asking “where are the jobs? where are the grocery stores?”

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