FERGUSON, Mo.– Natasha Gray is at the point where she can laugh it off when someone drives past extending their middle finger in her direction.
Next to her, Angelique Kidd still gets a little riled up.
Three months ago, the two women – one black, one white – would’ve been strangers had they passed each other on the street.
Today, they spend as many as 12 hours a day together sitting side-by-side in lawn chairs on a sidewalk across the street from the Ferguson Police Department.
They sit there nearly every day holding signs protesting the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
Gray, who is black, is from Hazelwood; Kidd, who is white, is from Ferguson. Their newfound friendship, is perhaps, an exception. It came about in the aftermath of Brown’s death at a time when many would argue the St. Louis area has become more racially and ideologically polarized.
Gray and Kidd are an exception to the idea some people have of the typical protester – loud, angry and violent hoodlums intent on wreaking havoc.
They are middle-age, married and raising children. They don’t do much marching. Rather, they protest by just being present.
Together, they are part of a larger group of diehards protesting outside the police station.
In addition to Gray and Kidd, there is Tony and Don and Steve and Murphy and many others who would not identify themselves.
In total, about 30 committed protesters make the sidewalk across from the police station their home base. They are loosely organized into day shifts, night shifts, weekday protesters and weekenders.
Gray said she’s not sure if their protest, closing in on 70 days, is going to change anyone’s mind, especially that of police.
Gray said she’s careful not to antagonize police or provoke them in any way. As someone with epilepsy, she had a health scare in the days immediately after the shooting when the protests were at their most volatile.
It was there on West Florissant Avenue, near where Brown was killed that Gray said police tried to take her to jail for sitting down on a sidewalk.
A few days later, she started protesting on South Florissant Road, in front of the police station where it’s quieter.
“I don’t get in their faces,” Gray said of the police. “I just want them to know I’m here.”
She said the protest is bigger than Michael Brown.
“It’s about the way police act toward certain people, it’s about the need for a change in leadership,” she said. “Martin Luther King didn’t sit back and do nothing. Rosa Parks didn’t sit back and do nothing. If you sit back and do nothing, nothing will ever change.”
Kidd is the more fiery of the two. One recent morning, a woman in a silver SUV drove past them extending her middle finger.
“You don’t think a problem exists,” Kidd yells at the passing vehicle. It’s part question, part accusation.
“I’ve never seen so many white middle fingers in my life,” she tells her fellow protesters.
Another time, a man on a motorcycle stopped in front of them and told them Brown was a criminal who deserved to die.
Lots of other people scream expletives at them and tell them to get jobs.
As an assistant librarian at the Ferguson Library, Kidd said she gets a lot of flak around town. People tell her that she’s making the town look bad.
“I don’t understand how I’m making Ferguson look bad,” she said. “I ask them, ‘Don’t you want an end to police brutality? Don’t you want black people to be treated the same way?”
Kidd started protesting about a week after the rest of the group. She said she started by writing “Who Shot Michael Brown?” on her car when Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson initially refused to release Wilson’s name.
Because Kidd is somewhat known in Ferguson, she said she hopes she can help change people’s minds.
“I want people to see my white face and think, ‘Hey, I know her. She’s not a radical. Maybe something is wrong,’ ” Kidd said.
For now, Gray, Kidd and the rest of the South Florissant protesters said they plan to keep up their protest until something changes.
They don’t know if that will be when a state grand jury decides whether to indict Wilson or beyond.
“I don’t know if we’re going to change anyone’s minds, but we’ve got to be willing to try,” Gray said. “I think some change can come from us being out here, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”