FERGUSON, Mo. – The first thing you should know about 33-year-old Billy Moreno is that he really didn't want to be interviewed.
Moreno, who is white and resides in Austin, Texas, didn't want to take attention away from the concerns of the African-America population in Ferguson. But when you're arrested three times -- twice in one 24-hour cycle -- after driving more than 800 miles to take part in sometimes violent demonstrations, eventually people are going to ask: "Why are you here?"
So Moreno agreed to share his reasons, off camera, in his own words.
"I was originally motivated to come to Ferguson when I saw how difficult and chaotic the protest was becoming, in particular, the interactions between the public and the police," Moreno said.
Moreno is married and has worked as a video game designer and in the table-top, fantasy gaming industry. He majored in philosophy and computer science at the University of Texas in Austin and Texas State University in San Marcos before leaving school to start working in the video game industry.
Moreno said he has never done anything like this before. He said he's not especially politically active.
Moreno left Austin, Texas Friday, Aug. 15. It was the day after the first night of relative peace and calm in Ferguson. On Thursday, Aug. 14, the Missouri State Highway Patrol assumed control of the troubled area on West Florissant Avenue under the supervision of Captain Ron Johnson. It felt like a turning point.
This is when Moreno decided to drive 13 hours to St. Louis.
"The day before I left was that first peaceful Thursday," Moreno said. "So as I was driving up, my intent was to come show support during what I expected to be a healthy and positive weekend, find someone or some group to pass off money that I've raised to, then head home to join my family on vacation at the beach in Galveston, Texas. I was dismayed to find out what happened in Ferguson that Friday at the end of my 13-hour drive. I can only imagine how heartbroken the community must have felt."
On that Friday, the rioting and looting resumed in Ferguson after a one-day break. Ferguson police released surveillance video, allegedly of Michael Brown, stealing cigars from a convenience store and shoving a store clerk.
In less than 24 hours, that store would be looted and the riot scene returned, and that's precisely when Billy Moreno arrived in St. Louis.
Moreno says scenes of lawlessness and looting in Ferguson disturbed him for a variety of reasons.
"I think it is not only a shame, but a startling lack of perspective from the media in general to keep highlighting the looting that has taken place disproportionately in relation to other newsworthy events in Ferguson and without proper contextualization.
"As soon as I decided I communicated my intent (to come to Ferguson) to my wife, it was really difficult for her to hear," Moreno said. "Because in a lot of ways from our media perspective the situation up here looked scary and unpredictable, and she was worried about my safety. At first, when I told my mom, she said 'cool, have fun.' When she called me the next morning, I knew right away that she had spent the night researching online. They both pulled out all the stops trying to get me not to go. I won't go into details but their concern for me trumped their concern for my feelings."
Moreno said he's been collecting money through social media and has been trying to gather information from Ferguson business owners to distribute the money. Moreno said he was talking with one business owner last Monday when he was arrested the first time for "refusing to disperse."
Moreno said his second and third arrests on the same charge came after confusion over where it was legal for protesters to walk or stand.
"Since arriving in the area, I've spent four nights at different hotels, two nights in jail, and one night at an acquaintance's," Moreno said. "Aside from that first night which I planned from the comfort of my own home, I haven't known where I was staying until late in that same day."
Still, Moreno believes he is helping. He believes he's making a difference.
"I have developed many relationships with locals and other supporters over the past week," he said. "I believe I have a lot to continue to offer in the next stage of efforts taking place even as the protesting situation fortunately seems to have settled into a peaceful rhythm. Short answer, I'm still trying to figure out how much longer I'll be here based on how much I'm still able to offer by being here. At some point, I'm looking forward to returning home and taking all of this experience and those relationships with me and figuring out how to expand the sphere of activity as broadly as possible."
Moreno says he was described as an "outside agitator" by police. He says that's not true and says he's not sure when he will leave Ferguson.
"I'm going to follow advice I've been giving to people all week in describing their opinions," Moreno said. "Everyone had their own, and I respect that. There was lots of overlap and solidarity in the idea that the people here needed all the help that could be offered, that they shouldn't feel alone and isolated while dealing with everything they were dealing with, and that healthy, peaceful resolution was the end game."