Shooting Death of Missouri Teen Sparks Ongoing Civil Unrest


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

FERGUSON, Mo.– Calls for action and unrest continue in response to the shooting of Michael Brown on Saturday Aug. 9, 2014. Brown, an unarmed African American male, was shot multiple times by a Ferguson police officer. Brown was 18 years old and days away from starting college. The incident took place at around 2 p.m. local time as Brown was walking from his apartment to his grandmother’s house. The name of the officer has since been revealed to be Darren Wilson, a 6-year veteran of the Ferguson Police Department. Wilson is currently on paid administrative leave.

On the morning following the shooting, police chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police Department held a news conference in which he confirmed that Brown was not alone during the incident. The identity of the other person was later confirmed to be Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, 22. Belmar claimed that Wilson pulled up in his car to question him when “[Brown] allegedly pushed the police officer back into the car, where he physically assaulted the police officer,” according to KSDK. Police claim that the officer shot Brown after he shoved the officer and tried to wrestle the officer’s gun from him. At least one shot was fired from within the car. Brown managed to escape as he and Johnson started to run away. The officer got out of his car and fired several more times, killing Brown. Johnson and other eyewitnesses reported seeing Brown hold his hands in the air and say “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”

On Friday, Aug. 15, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson gave details about a “strong-arm robbery” that occurred at a local convenience store minutes before Wilson shot and killed Brown. Police documents show that Brown was named as a suspect in the robbery. Dispatch records and video surveillance of the robbery also were released, allegedly showing Brown stealing a box of cigarillos and pushing the owner of the convenience store. The Justice Department advised Ferguson Police to not release the footage, fearing a resurfacing of violence. After a period of calm and peaceful demonstrations Thursday night, protests turned violent again following the release of the tape. The situation intensified when the Ferguson Police Department revealed that Wilson was not aware that Brown was a robbery suspect when he shot him, suggesting that the two incidents may not be related.

The killing of Michael Brown has sparked massive protests demanding justice for Brown, both in Ferguson and in cities across the country. For many, Brown’s death has become yet another example of the ongoing racial tensions between citizens and those sworn to protect them. Protestors point to the fact that Brown’s death was at the hands of a law enforcement officer at a time when, in the United States, there is a significantly higher probability that a person of color will be incarcerated. For example, the NAACP reports that of the 2.3 million incarcerated population in the US, about 1 million is comprised of African Americans.

Brown’s death comes not long after another black male, Eric Garner, was killed during a chokehold arrest in New York. Additionally, last year an unarmed black man named Jonathan Ferrell was shot ten times by a North Carolina police officer. Many have also drawn comparisons to Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, in which the 17 year old unarmed youth was shot and killed. Brown’s family has even retained Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represented Trayvon Martin’s family, to represent them.

On Sunday, Aug. 10, the day after Brown’s death, hundreds of disgruntled Missourians took to the streets of the St. Louis suburb, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!”. In the days following, citizens have continued protesting, and although some demonstrations were peaceful, many turned violent as some began looting and vandalizing local businesses. Police responded with tear gas, road blocks, and rubber bullets. Multiple arrests and violent protests continued well into the week, even after the city government urged protesters to restrict their demonstrations to daytime hours.

The town has been met with an unprecedented amount of racial tension between citizens and the police. Ferguson’s police force does not reflect the town’s racial demographics, whose population is two-thirds African American. Of the 53 officers on the force, only 3 are black. According to the FBI, 85% of the people arrested by the Ferguson Police Department are black and 92% of people arrested specifically for disorderly conduct are black. This lack of representation goes beyond the police and is also seen in its local government, as only one of Ferguson’s six city council members is black, and the mayor and police chief are both white.

On Thursday, President Obama addressed the nation on Ferguson and urged for peace, also calling on local police to be “open and transparent” in their examination of Brown’s death. The FBI and local police are conducting investigations into Brown’s death, while the Department of Justice is investigating the possibility that Brown’s civil rights were violated.

The use of force in the area started making national headlines when the local police wore riot gear, drove tanks, and used tear gas to disperse protesters as early as Monday, Aug. 11. The police even arrested journalists from the Huffington Post and the Washington Post, and an Al Jazeera America news crew was teargassed. It was not until Thursday, Aug. 14 that Ferguson saw its first day without any violence or arrests, but the violence resumed the following day. The task of maintaining security in the area has since been handed over to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. As of Saturday, Aug. 16, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and ordered a midnight curfew for Ferguson.

Additionally, these events have sparked concern over the growing militarization of the nation’s police forces. The use of assault rifles and armored vehicles in Ferguson has caused the local police to resemble soldiers, and the military-grade weapons used by law enforcement came directly from the Pentagon. The Department of Defense has been supplying local law enforcement agencies across the country with military-grade weapons since the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in 1990 through DoD 1033 program. This program distributes surplus military equipment such as automatic weapons and armored vehicles to local police departments across the country. However, the initiative does not provide any training or oversight, and it also requires that the equipment be used within one year. The Ferguson Police Department is a participant in this program.

Responding at the local level here in Santa Barbara, The Coalition for Justice will be holding a candlelight vigil on Thursday, Aug. 21 at 7pm at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The event is intended as a peaceful non-violent gathering to honor the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Renisha McBride and other victims of racialized violence and police brutality. All are welcome to attend and bring candles, posters, family, and friends.

Photo Courtesy of NBC News