By Elizabeth Hong
On August 9th, just before noon, Michael Brown, a recent high school graduate, entered Ferguson Market and Liquor with his friend, Dorian Johnson. Minutes later, the two encountered police officer Darren Wilson who, at the time, didn’t know that Brown was suspected of robbing cigarettes from the liquor store. The exact details of the altercation are still unclear as witnesses and the Ferguson police have provided conflicting accounts. Within just three minutes, Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was sprawled on the ground, dead from six gunshots fired by Wilson. Brown’s friend, Johnson, has stated that they were ordered onto the sidewalk when the struggle occurred. He, along with other witnesses, claimed that Brown was shot on his knees while surrendering; however, the police have alleged Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun and Wilson merely practiced self-defense.
The tragic conflict has ignited demonstrations in Ferguson against police brutality and racial profiling. In Ferguson, a small community where 67% of the 21,000 residents are black and 95% of the police force is white, racial divides are palpable. Many of the Missouri suburb’s black residents cannot even count the many times they’ve been stopped by police. The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has riled a city that bears the weight of a history of racism and injustice.
The waves of peaceful demonstrations and rioters have been difficult to subside. Protestors continue to be angered by the facts: Brown’s body was left in the street for four hours and Wilson’s name was withheld from the public for many days. Perhaps, the most infuriating spark of the tensions has been the unrestrained display of force on the town. St. Louis County police officers, SWAT teams, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the National Guard have suppressed protestors with tear gas, LRAD, rubber bullets, and have even threatened citizens at gunpoint. Photos and videos documenting the militarized scenes are unnerving; police officers parade across Ferguson equipped with 300m guns and snipes on top of armed vehicles.
Police brutality stemming from racial targeting is prevalent not only in the case of Michael Brown but also across America’s history. The death of Michael Brown and the aftermath of it draw parallels to the Civil Rights Movement, the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, and the recent death of Eric Garner, an African American who died from a chokehold used by a NYPD officer. These are all deeply tied to the nation’s black-white divide and bring up questions on police policies and social issues.
The question that then remains is: How many Michael Browns are killed by police? The truth is, there is no answer. Many police departments fail to even keep track of violent encounters between police and civilians. The story of Michael Brown is not an uncommon narrative. In just the first three months of 2012 alone, police and security personnel killed 18 unarmed African Americans, including Travyon Martin. The outpourings of grief and anger in response to Michael Brown’s death signify a hopeful message from this tragedy. We are becoming more aware of and more sensitive to injustice.