A Missouri city erupts against police murder of black unarmed teen Mike Brown
August 12, 2014
"Ferguson Police Just Executed My Unarmed Son!!!"
That was the heartbreaking message Louis Head wrote on a piece of cardboard and held up for the community to see after his stepson, Michael Brown, was shot down by a cop in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., on August 9.
The death of the 18 year old ignited the bitter outrage of a community that says police brutality directed at Black men is all-too-common in this majority-African American suburb outside St. Louis, leading to angry protests two nights in a row.
Mainstream media outlets focused on the damage done to property during the demonstrations, but for millions of people around the country, horror at the police execution of another unarmed Black youth—and the sense that it’s time something is done about police violence—were the dominant feelings.
According to the police version of events, a shop owner reported that someone allegedly matching Brown’s description shoplifted from their store. Later, an officer—who still had not been named when this report written—stopped Brown and a friend as they walked down a street, say the cops, and Brown attempted to push the officer into his car and tried grab for the officer’s gun.
Police say one shot was fired from the officer’s gun during the struggle. Then, after the unarmed Brown fled, the cop fired several shots at Brown, fatally wounding the teen.
Witnesses tell a completely different story. Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Michael Brown, and Piaget Crenshaw, a bystander who witnessed the shooting, told Fox 2 News that after confronting Brown and Johnson for walking in the street, the officer began assaulting Brown by choking him, and trying to pull Brown into his squad car. His weapon fired at least once at this point.
When both teens ran, the officer then fired a second shot. Johnson told reporters at the scene, “[The officer] shot again and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down, and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
"We weren’t causing no harm to nobody," Johnson said. "We had no weapons on us at all."
Brown’s family and friends learned of his death because his lifeless body laid in the streetfor some four hours while police “investigated”—or tried to get their stories straight about a case of cold-blooded murder, to judge from the eyewitness accounts.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, Brown’s friends “saw photos of him lying in the street on Canfield Drive where his body remained for hours. Some joined the crowds of mourners and protesters who had gathered there since the shooting in protest of how Brown had died: Black, unarmed and from multiple gunshots.”
The death of yet another young Black man at the hands of police caused community outrage to boil over in the days following the killing—though this happened only after what many call a deliberate police provocation.
Black residents who gathered for a vigil on the evening of Brown’s death in front of the police station were met with a heavy-handed response. Dozens of police had been called in from the surrounding towns, and they were dressed in riot gear, many holding shotguns. The crowd chanted, “The people, united, will never be defeated,” and some residents held up their hands to show police that they were unarmed, shouting, “Don’t shoot me” at the cops.
Anger in the community built, not only in response to the official police story about Brown’s death, but to the media portrayals of Brown—who was to begin his first day of college on Monday.
As TheRoot.com noted, many media outlets chose to use a picture of an unsmiling Brown flashing a peace sign, which some labeled a “gang sign.” As Yesha Callahan put it:
You’d be hard-pressed to find mainstream media showing Brown at his high school graduation or with members of his family. Ironically, all of those photos exist courtesy of Brown’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, because of Ferguson police, we’ll never be able to see a photo of Brown attending his first day of college today.
The following night, August 10, hundreds of protesters gathered for another candlelight vigil. When some took to the streets, chanting “No justice, no peace,” they were confronted by hundreds of police in riot gear, armed with attack dogs.
It was widely reported that Black residents began chanting, “Kill the police!” before engaging in what the media generally termed a “riot,” including the looting of some local stores. But many people who said they participated in the demonstration took to social media to insist that protesters actually were chanting not “Kill the police,” but “No justice, no peace!” Many also stated that protesters were deliberately provoked by the heavy police presence.
At some point, some protesters reportedly began looting and spray-painting several stores, with one convenience store set on fire. Police eventually used tear gas to disperse them.