City in Grief: The Ferguson Revolution

October 14, 2014

August 9th, 2014 was a monumental day for not only St. Louis, but all of America. It was the day that would lead one mourning community in St. Louis to start a (literal) fire under America's.......heart.

 

The neighborhood demanded answers for why one of their own, 18 year old Michael Brown, had been shot by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson and laid dead in the street for 4 hours after. They wanted to know why witness reports were made that claimed the teenager had his hands up and was surrendering when shot. 

 

In the days after, as conflicting information was released including witness testimony that supported and did not support Wilson's version of events, the community demanded an investigation into the event. 

 

 

FALSE WITNESS

One witness lied about being in the area and changed her story about what she saw and admitted to having gathered some details from news reports.  The day Mike Brown died the same woman posted a "They need to kill the f---ing n-----s. It is like an ape fest," comment online.

 

Another witness whose testimony was used to corroborate Wilson's self defense excuse lied to investigators and never witnessed the incident. When asked whether the two statements she provided were true she answered. "I just felt like I want to be part of something ... I didn't see what I told the FBI what (sic) I saw." She said she was actually passing along what her boyfriend told her he saw. 

 

Two men working nearby witnessed the shooting, but not the events at the car. They spoke to the St. Louis County police and the FBI. One worker told them he was Wilson chase Brown on foot away from the car after the initial shot and fire at least one more shot at him as he ran away. He says Brown stopped, turned around and put his hands up; and that the officer then killed him in a barrage of gunfire.

 

As the community grew tired of and disappointed in the degree of disrespect and disregard being shown for their grief, as well as, the re-occurrence of officer testimony that did not seem credible, people decided to stand up and draw the attention of the nation to the cause of police brutality and injustice. They demanded an investigation into Wilson's account of events and an independent autopsy outside of the standard one performed by the city. The community felt that the Prosecuting Attorney's close ties with law enforcement was a clear conflict of interest. 

 

They also did not understand how the officer was allowed to escalate the initial interaction with the teenager when he approached him in the middle of the street hitting him with the door of his car. They did not believe the testimony that Michael Brown reached inside the patrol car to steal a holstered gun on the Officer's hip. 

 

 

 

LANGUAGE OF THE UNHEARD

The next day, a QuikTrip gas station was set on fire and people took to the streets to protest for the next 300 days.

 

St. Louis Post Dispatch Photo - August 10, 2014

 

 

A dedicated group of protesters formed an alliance and met everyday on the sidewalk and parking lot of tire company Andy Wurm. The parking lot was directly in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Throughout the coming months several marches were planned down West Florissant  (near the Canfield apartments where Brown was killed) and Florissant (where the police station was located) Avenues. Police responded at every march with heavy military presence that included sound canons, tear gas, smoke grenades and riot gear. As protesters refused to back down, the tension between both city and county police and the protesters escalated each night. Major and local news stations from all over the world had come to the area to cover the unrest. The revolution was being televised.

 

 

Even after autopsies were performed the findings were up for debate, but obvious evidence (including his body being 153 feet away from the patrol car) showed that Brown had been shot as he was retreating from the officer or surrendering. Whether he did not surrender "correctly" in the eyes of law enforcement or if he was falling forward to his death after being fatally shot, it could not be conclusively determined that a fleeing subject would turn and run TOWARD an officer that was shooting at them. The officer claimed Brown's face as he was being shot at was "aggressive" and increased his fear.  And despite Wilson being 6′ 4″ and 210 lbs., he described his encounter with Brown as "feeling like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan."

 

 

 

 

 

 

The investigation interpreted that Brown's body position was also consistent with re-approaching the officer and this was deemed substantial in denying charges against the officer. Whether he was surrendering as he approached or "charging" couldn't be determined and the communities demand for a trial and independent investigation was denied. Nothing would be done. 

 

 Protesters wait outside of Ferguson Police Department for the announcement of the decision.

When it was revealed Darren Wilson would not be charged, chaos ensued.

 

 

That night, after experiencing this latest heart break, the people took the streets again. A small group of residents and non-residents took their anger and frustration out by throwing rocks at the windows and setting fire to nearby businesses and cars. Luckily the destruction was only attributed to a few agitators, because if the thousands of people who had gathered and were angered by the announcement were to have participated the town might look much like East St. Louis 1917. 

 

Ultimately, though, with the worldwide focus on the Ferguson Police Department the Department of Justice began to look into the current oppressive policies being enforced on a economically strapped community. Racist emails were uncovered in the City Hall. Town halls were organized for citizens to voice their concerns, and the DOJ determined that "the combination of Ferguson’s focus on generating revenue over public safety, along with racial bias, has a profound effect on the FPD’s police and court practices, resulting in conduct that routinely violates the Constitution and federal law. The department also found that these patterns created a lack of trust between the FPD and significant portions of Ferguson’s residents, especially African Americans."

 

A decree was filed calling for immediate change in Ferguson. 

 

The 127-page agreement created guidelines for police training and "[reorienting] Ferguson's use-of-force policies toward de-escalation and avoiding force." The agreement also required the acquisition of body cameras, an overhaul of the municipal court system, and a pay increase for police officers.

 

 

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