Even as Ferguson, Missouri, has been rocked by night after night of protests and police clashes, Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman for the town, said that many local residents have come together to help each other and try to prevent further violence.
"I saw a woman walking around last night during the protests, and do you know what she had in her hands? A gallon of milk," Bynes told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "And people were like, 'What are you doing with that milk?' And she said, 'This is to help people who get tear-gassed.'"
"Everybody has their weapon of choice," Bynes said. For some, it's waving protest signs. For others, it's providing food or car rides. For others, it's helping those who have been tear-gassed.
"Last night, she was my hero," Bynes said, "the lady with the milk."
— Patricia Bynes (@Patricialicious) August 18, 2014
"I've lived in the area for about 14 years," she added. "These are my stores that I go to, my gas station that I frequent. They're part of my every day. And the people who work in these places are familiar faces."
Yet the response by the community, she said, has been inspiring. "This has brought out the best in the community. I've seen people without even thinking just step up and start doing the right thing."
When tensions flare, Bynes said, residents have worked to keep the peace. "Sometimes there are people who start arguing amongst themselves, fighting," she said. "And then I've seen people just step in and say, 'Stop, this isn't about Mike Brown.' So whatever their differences were, they were arguing to the point where it was going to be a physical altercation. Other people have stepped in and said, 'Hey, no, stop it.'"
Others have fed people and swept up the damage after the nightly clashes. "I've gotten countless, countless phone calls from people saying, 'Hey, how can we help? We want to donate food for the protesters,'" Bynes said. "I even saw a Domino's down the street -- they donated pizzas one day for people to eat while they're protesting. People come out and volunteer and clean up the streets in the morning every day."
"There's something remarkable going on," she continued. "I'm not surprised because I live here, and I know that we have great people here. So during times like this, this is when those people just step up and just fill the need."
Bynes herself has lent a helping hand on a number of occasions, offering rides to strangers who couldn't reach their cars because streets were blocked off or who otherwise didn't know how to get back home.
"I just felt an obligation to help people, because I knew the side streets and the layout of the land and the shortcuts to be able to get people safely to their cars," she said. "Especially if they're black, because I don't want them to be caught walking the street in the dark and the police think that they're trying to do something."
Bynes said that she had been hopeful that Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol could end the confrontations between the police and protesters that have taken place almost nightly since African-American teen Michael Brown was killed on Aug. 9. As the violence has continued, however, her friends pushed her to obtain a gas mask and a bulletproof vest. She was reluctant, but finally did so on Sunday.
"Some of my friends, they're funny. They said, 'Patricia, we know you're not going to stop going out there. You're committed to your community.' And I was like, 'Yeah, so don't tell me to stay home, because I'm not going to listen to you,'" she said.