FERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - Ever since a white police officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager nearly two weeks ago, De‘Joneiro Jones has found himself drawn again and again to the makeshift memorial that has grown at the site of the violent encounter.
“This has become the epicenter of racial tensions in America,” said Jones, 40, an abstract artist who lives in St. Louis. “This was just an explosion that was waiting to happen.”
Jones took off his sunglasses for a moment to wipe his eyes, then donned them and added: “I just hope maybe this could be the last tragedy of its kind.”
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9 has sparked sometimes violent protests, laying bare long-lingering racial tensions in the United States and prompting international condemnation of the clashes between police and demonstrators.
On the sleepy two-lane street in a working-class apartment complex where he was shot, the memorial to Brown sums up the conflicting feelings stirred by his death: a yearning for reconciliation but also continuing anger.
Alongside soft toys, a wooden cross leans against a tree on the side of the road bearing the words “Love your neighbor and you would love yourself.” Other signs say “Pray for light” and “Pray for truth.”
But below those a large white placard reads “Beware killer cops on the loose, watch out children.”
A line of red roses on the street stretching some 150 feet (45 meters) leads from the memorial to the main road where protesters have gathered nightly.
Almost like pilgrims, hundreds of well-wishers now come daily from near and far, following the roses to the spot where Brown died.
Edward Scott, 38, visiting for the day from Chicago some 300 miles (480 km) away, arrived with two friends on Friday.
“I feel like we needed to pay our respects and show solidarity,” he said. “I don’t want people to forget what happened here.”
‘A BETTER PLACE’
Clergy are on hand here to provide counseling, while a mobile healthcare center has chugged through the site. A voter registration booth appears periodically, while volunteers hand out flyers about youth programs and job training.
Not far down the street from the memorial, a food stall was set up under oak and pine trees away from the blazing sun, providing food, juice, water and diapers from local churches.
Tim Sneed, 23, a resident who says he knew Brown personally, notes improvements in the neighborhood. Arguments and infighting have tailed away since Brown’s death and there is a greater sense of unity here, he said.
“People are coming together,” Sneed said. “It’s a better place now.”
On one side of the street by the memorial, residents hold open mike sessions to debate a range of issues affecting the local black community.
At Friday around lunchtime, a young black woman in her 20s was engaged in a lively debate about polygamy among black men with a group of her male peers when Brown’s father turned up at the memorial.
A man accompanying Michael Brown Sr. asked the few reporters not to ask questions while he paid his respects. Well-wishers came up to express support, which Brown’s father accepted in a hushed tone.
Wearing a blue T-shirt with “I told you Dad, I am Mike Brown” written on the back and a photo of Michael Brown on the front with the words “I am legend - the world now knows my name” written on the front, he took photographs of the memorial with his cell phone.
He stood in silence for a few minutes, grief etched on his face. Then he turned and walked away slowly with his shoulders hunched as more people arrived to pay their respects.
Reporting by Nick Carey and Edward McAllister; Additional reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Eric Beech