State of emergency in Ferguson highlights challenges for truckers

By Land Line staff | 11/19/2014

No matter what the outcome of the grand jury decision on whether to file charges against a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in connection with the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, at least one resident of the suburban St. Louis community says it will be business as usual for him.

Al Clark, an owner-operator and OOIDA member who has lived in Ferguson for more than six years, says the violence, protests and threats of unrest haven’t been affecting his ability to work or live. Clark is a reefer hauler who does most of his business in the Midwest and Southeastern United States.

“It hasn’t affected me at all,” Clark said in a phone interview with Land Line earlier this week. “I know the news media like to show those pictures and make Ferguson look like a real war zone but it isn’t like that at all.”

While Clark admits he’s not concerned about any potential impact of civil unrest, the prospect of violence or unsafe conditions is something many truckers may want to think about when it comes to their ability to work safely.

In the event of an emergency such as a riot, the Missouri Department of Transportation has a road condition map available online, which can be accessed from its website or via the state highway patrol website. A mobile app is also available for download. The agency also maintains a toll-free number, 888-275-6636, which will provide the same information. 

While the transportation office website and hotline can provide up-to-date road closures, detours and delays on major travel routes, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull says it won’t be able to provide drivers with information about secondary roads or city streets.

“You will need to inquire with the local jurisdictions in order to determine a contact point for local or city street issues,” Hull said in an email to Land Line. “Monitoring local TV and radio news channels may also keep drivers updated on closures or traffic pattern changes.”

Besides physical safety hazards, working in an area under a state of emergency declaration could have serious financial consequences for drivers, as many insurance policies carry exemptions for operating the vehicle in such conditions.

Deborah Winkler, OOIDA Truck Insurance Department manager, says that while individual policies may vary, most insurance plans will have “some kind of exclusion for riots or civil unrest.”

Those exclusions can be for loss or damage caused by strikers, locked-out workmen, persons taking part in labor disturbances, riots or civil commotions. Winkler said truckers are sometimes left with the difficult choice of doing a job that could put them in harm’s way, or declining to take a job altogether.

“I know how it works for a lot of carriers. You’ve got to do the job and get (the load) delivered to get paid,” she said. “But if at all possible, you should avoid such an area. And if you do have to go into an area like that, you should be aware that you’re basically self-insuring yourself at that point.”

Protests began in earnest in the days following Brown’s shooting, and culminated with multiple tense and violent standoffs between police and the protesters. In some instances, violence by protesters resulted in property damage, including the looting and burning of a convenience store. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered the state’s highway patrol to take over policing duties in the community. The incident also sparked a nationwide debate about the increasing militarization of police departments across the country, as well as reigniting debates about race relations and discrimination by police who work in minority-majority communities.

“I don’t agree with what the protesters are doing at all,” Clark said. “I’m black, but I don’t agree with it. We’re not out there. That’s not the black community. Those are individuals out there. I’m not saying the peaceful protesters are criminals. They got a right to protest.”

Protests and demonstrations have continued in the community since Aug. 9, and in an almost unprecedented move, Gov. Nixon declared a state of emergency in the community in anticipation of protests that may occur whenever the grand jury announces whether or not to criminally charge police officer Darren Wilson in connection with Brown’s death. Wilson could be facing charges from involuntary manslaughter up to first-degree murder, or the jury could decide to press no charges whatsoever. A decision by the grand jury is expected before the end of the month.

“I know they got the National Guard on standby,” Clark said. “I don’t agree with that either. They ought to round up those people and arrest them, and let the peaceful protesters alone. They know who the criminals are.”

The trucker added he believes the media coverage of some of the more violent and disturbing aspects of the protests and the police responses has been overblown.

“I’m getting ready to buy a house in Ferguson,” Clark said. “Ferguson is not a war zone. Ferguson is not the ghetto. It’s a working, middle-class community and always has been. I’ve been there for six years and I plan on being there the rest of my life.”

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