Foreign Correspondent

     For the past two weeks I’ve been working in a war zone.
     It wasn’t Iraq. It wasn’t Gaza.
     It was Ferguson, Mo.
     This became abundantly clear to me as I had to go through a National Guard checkpoint last Wednesday just to get to the media staging area to park my car. Driving in between two armored vehicles, having to show uniformed guards my CNS ID badge and playing 20 questions just to pass through an intersection in the heart of America was a bit unnerving.
     Ferguson is a suburb in north St. Louis County. It is a working-class town of 21,135 that is almost 65 percent African-American.
     Tensions boiled over when a white officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager, on Aug. 9.
     Since then, daily protests have given way to nightly riots. Stores have been damaged, looted and burned.
     As a white reporter who grew up 10 minutes west of Ferguson, I’ve spent the past two weeks getting tear-gassed, ducking real and rubber bullets and bottles filled with urine, while trying to empathize and understand what the Ferguson residents were feeling.
     It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
     A week ago Monday, due to the proximity of the protesters’ gunshots, the media was ordered south to a safe area. That meant a mile and a half, filled with bullets and tear gas, separated me from my car.
     My phone had about 2 percent life on its battery. I searched my maps app and found a back way into the subdivision I parked in, but it would be a 5-mile walk. Facing no other options (other than sleeping in the parking lot the media was ushered into), I decided to go for it.
     I was joined by two local reporters who were in the same predicament. Instead of taking my route, we decided to try a more direct route that would shave a couple miles off at the risk of being turned back by police.
     We were a block away from being able to make a turn that would take us away from the danger area, when police stopped us. We told them who we were, where we were trying to go (with a little embellishment about where our cars actually were) and showed them our media badges.
     The officer told us that it was too dangerous to keep going at the moment, but if we waited, he would escort us down when it was safe. Five minutes later, he was walking us down to the street we needed to get to in order to take the back way to our cars.
     I was thankful for the company. The hike down the street was long and dark. We heard gunfire in the distance. Sirens were a constant musical backdrop.
     I finally got my car at 2 a.m. It took another hour to get home. I was exhausted, but still had a story to write. I fell asleep at my keyboard several times, once unfortunately with my finger on the delete button, before finally sending in my copy at 5 a.m.
     A couple Fridays ago, I hit something in the highway on the way to Ferguson. I checked my tires when I got there and they looked OK, but there must have been a slow leak. My back passenger side tire was flat by the time I got back.
     Here I am in the middle of Ferguson at 11 p.m., it is raining and I have a flat.
     I dragged the spare out and tried to do my best racing pit crew imitation. I got the first three lug nuts loose, but the fourth wouldn’t budge.
     I knew I was in trouble when my crowbar started slipping. I had stripped the nut into a circle.
     Because of the violence, roadside assistance had stopped serving the area after dark.
     Luckily, some friends were close enough to rescue me.
     The next day I returned and waited for the tow truck driver. He took one look at what I did to the lug nut and simply said, “Man, you really fucked that up!”
     I laughed and said, “If you only knew.”
     Turns out he did.
     The driver, Mike, was Palestinian. We talked about Ferguson and what I had witnessed reporting on it.
     “Now you know what it’s like in Gaza,” Mike said.
     He was serious. A war zone had developed in mid-America.

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