Alliance CU's Ferguson Branch Closed Temporarily Following Riots
FERGUSON, Mo. — A branch of Alliance Credit Union is closed for the foreseeable future following the massive riots that took place here over night in the wake of the grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown during the summer.
Frank Evans, HR director at the $212 million credit union, told CU Journal this morning that Alliance's Jennings branch — which sits on the dividing line of Jennings and Ferguson — is part of "a stretch of several blocks that has literally been cordoned off for investigation of all the various crimes that took place last night." While residential traffic is being allowed through, he said, all other non-essential traffic is being kept out.
As a result, Alliance has redeployed employees to other branches and let members know that they can still do their banking at other Alliance branches in the area.
Despite a night that saw buildings torched and police cruisers set aflame on national television, the worst that has befallen Alliance's branch here is just some extra litter on the premises.
"So far, knock wood, that's been our issue — trying to keep the parking lot clean and keep the landscaping clean," he said. "We recognize that we've been so incredibly fortunate, and we just hope that continues."
Worse Than Summer?
The major question right now is when the branch will be able to reopen, but Evans said that despite some good contacts in official channels, the situation is too fluid to make any predictions.
"It could wrap up today but start fresh tomorrow if something else happens tonight," he said.
Some officials and many in the news media said Monday's rioting exceeded even the worst of the summer. While not downplaying any of last night's violence, Evans said it's a difficult comparison to make.
"Several things probably contribute to that perception," he said. "I think it seemed worse because the protests and the resulting violence were spread out considerably. During the summer it was much more concentrated on our street. We certainly had some folks on our street last night, but also several blocks away where the police station is there were lots of folks outside the police department, as well as in Clayton which is many miles away, which is where the courthouse was that the grand jury was at. So they saw a lot of protests there as well. I think that makes it look like it's much more widespread."
Evans was hesitant to make a prediction when asked whether or not he believes Tuesday night will see a repeat of Monday's violence.
"I wouldn't be surprised, but only because nothing about this situation surprises me anymore," he said. One of the major lessons from the rioting during the summer, he noted, was that "very seldom did anything go the way we might have speculated.... We could wake up tomorrow morning and have had an even worse night, and in hindsight we'd say we should have figured that would happen, or we could wake up tomorrow and everything is calm and peaceful."
Part of the Community
In the wake of the damage local businesses sustained during the summer, Alliance offered loans of up to $5,000 at 0% interest for up to 24 months. Sixteen of those loans were issued and the program was a success, with members using the monies to pay for everything from plywood to cover broken store windows to paying insurance deductibles.
It was too soon for Evans to say whether or not Alliance will offer those loans again but he noted that shortly after Alliance launched its product, some Missouri economic development agencies partnered with a consortium of banks to make a similar offer
"I've not really heard much of what the results were," he said. "I know there was a lot of bureaucracy and red tape involved on their end that fortunately we were able to eliminate from the start. Our loans were immediately underwritten on the spot. We had borrowers who were able to walk out with the funds in half an hour after inquiring about it, and I know with the state program it took several weeks."
Evans said that Alliance's decision about a new round of loans will be based on whether or not the state offers a similar product again and if organizers have figured out a way to respond to the need as well as Alliance believes it responded during the summer.
He emphasized that the decision will be based on whether or not there is a need that is not being met.
"It's difficult to know whether folks are going to be so quick to repair and reestablish their businesses this time," he said. "There may be some business owners in the area that feel like 'Gosh, I really worked my tail off to get up and running, and then it was so temporary.' There may just be a period where they say 'It's the holidays, maybe we just need to sit back and wait a week and see what happens.'"
Regardless of how the next few nights play out or how soon Alliance's branch here is able to reopen, Evans said that the credit union isn't going anywhere.
"A major theme throughout this is just our connection to that community," he said. "We've been there within a quarter mile of where we are now... for over 60 years. We've seen a lot of changes in the community over those 60-some years, but one thing that hasn't changed is that we're here to help and to do what we can to be a source of support for folks in that neighborhood. That's going to continue. We decided when this whole thing started that there wasn't anything that was going to happen that would make us rethink that."