On Saturday, Aug. 9, the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown ignited chaos, anger and protests that have since rocked the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis.
Eighteen-year-old Brown was walking across the street with his friends when Officer Darren Wilson stopped him, questioned him and eventually shot and killed him. According to autopsy reports, the teen was shot 6 times: twice in the head and four times in the right arm. The description of events leading up to the shooting, however, vary depending on who is telling the story.
According to several eye witness accounts, Wilson called Brown over to his patrol car where a small scuffle ensued, after which he pulled his gun and began to shoot. This prompted Brown to run. When the teenager turned around, allegedly with his hands up in surrender and urging the police officer not to shoot, he was killed.
The Ferguson police department, however, paints a different picture. According to them, Brown and Wilson got into an altercation wherein Brown punched the officer in the face and grabbed for his gun. Brown then bumrushed Wilson, prompting the officer to defend himself and shoot.
Both sides of the story lack concrete, unbiased detail. Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable, and without a camera recording for undeniable evidence, it is tough to say for sure what really happened.
Regardless of what happened in the events leading up to the killing, however, the fact that a police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager who allegedly had his hands up in surrender has sent shockwaves of outrage and protest throughout the nation.
“No Justice! No Peace!” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” are the battle cries of protesters. For over two weeks now, Ferguson’s streets have been filled with the marches, demonstrations and picket signs of citizens angered by the unjustified crime they say was committed.
The protesting goes both ways, however, and supporters of Darren Wilson have marched with their own signs.
According to the LA Times, a man who identifies himself as Michael Donovan wrote: “The rush to judgment on this man is un-American. We have both the President and the attorney general of the United States prejudging him and putting the weight of the entire government into the prosecution of Darren Wilson. He deserves his chance to tell his side of the story.”
Both groups of supporters have started drives for monetary donations. Wilson sympathizers have raised just over $150,000 so far with Brown sympathizers collecting a little more than $130,000.
Since Brown’s shooting, tensions between citizens and law enforcement have escalated. Countless Americans have watched live new feeds as the Ferguson Police Department has turned the small town into what looks like a scene from overseas.
Local resident Deborah Jones expressed her feelings on how the protests and police presence are affecting her in everyday life. “It’s restless, you can’t sleep at night because of the honking of the horns, the yelling, the throwing of the tear gas…we’re right in the middle, and people need to [stop] this [protesting and violence]. It’s like a prison here. We’re in a war zone.”
Many others agree. One of Jones’s neighbors, Shante Simmons, admitted she feels trapped, stating, “I hope they get everything resolved soon…they need to bring this person to justice so these people can start to heal so this can calm down. Because this neighborhood is really suffering.”
Most businesses that line West Florissant Avenue, which is known as Ground Zero for the protests, have been closed and boarded up for weeks now, negatively affecting the finances of many small business owners. The start of the school year has also been delayed at the hands of the protests, leaving scores of young children caught in the crosshairs.
The way Ferguson police have handled the peaceful protestors has left many onlookers in a state of shock. Every peaceful assembly has its bad seeds, though, and a few trouble makers—whom some protesters have described as anarchists and “planted provocateurs”—have taken advantage of the situation by rioting, looting and provoking police.
The provocateurs, however, are a minority; the majority of the protesters have called for peace. That, however, has not stopped police from dealing with the situation as if it were a full-on riot.
For days, police have used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets on protesters. They sit atop tanks with rifles trained on the crowds; the National Guard was called to assist law enforcement.The unusual live scenes on all the major news networks are coupled with reporters who seemed to be in sheer disbelief that such chaos was happening in an American city.
“These are armed police with semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat…There is nothing going on in these streets right now that merits this,” stated reporter Jake Tapper.
The anger incited by brutal police tactics seemed to grow more and more by the day. CNN reporter Don Lemon was one of the many journalists to immerse himself in the chaos of Ferguson.
After seeing the events firsthand and even being shoved by an officer himself, he said “Now you see why people are so angry.” Since then an officer has been relieved of duty and suspended for threatening to kill a group of demonstrators.
Photos and videos of militarized police officers have gone viral on the internet. Social networking site Twitter has played a huge role in the unfiltered circulation of information on the Web; not only have online petitions gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, but protests have organized through Twitter as well.
Trending topics such as #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #Ferguson have shed an amateur’s light on the social and political tension that some claim have been festering in the small Missouri town between citizens and local law enforcement.
Ferguson is a town that is 70% black while the police force is 90% white, employing only three black officers.
Ferguson PD, however, denies any disconnect between themselves and the community. When the reporters asked police chief Tom Jackson about the perception that officers stop blacks more than whites on average, he explained “Well if that is the perception out there, then that is something we need to work on.” When asked if he felt that it was more than just a perception he said “I don’t think so.”
Not only are Americans tuned in to catch the latest news on the Ferguson protests, but mainstream and social media have captured an international audience. Images have surfaced on Twitter of people in London protesting the Mike Brown’s death alongside images and video of Tibetan monks who traveled halfway across the world to demonstrate with the Ferguson community.
So far, two officers have been suspended from duty with the St. Louis County Police Department for violent or disorderly conduct. As of late, the streets of this small Missouri town have settled tremendously since the start of the demonstrations. “It was another good night,” stated Missouri State Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson on Aug. 22. “We’re heading toward a sense of peace for our community. Through 12:30 a.m., there were just seven arrests, including five for failing to disperse.”
Missouri governor Jay Nixon has since recalled the National Guard, and the police’s militant facade has gradually faded. No one can say for sure what verdict is to come of the Michael Brown case, which went to grand jury on Aug. 20, but the demonstrators in Ferguson, though now smaller, continue.
In the words of one excited protester, “Until we get justice, we won’t stop. We will not stop.”