It’s been one year since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer who gunned down the unarmed black teen on August 9, 2014. Brown’s death, which came just weeks after Staten Island resident Eric Garner was choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, sparked national protests that called for, among other demands, the end of state violence upon America’s black citizenry.
On November 24, a jury decided to not indict Wilson. As dissent grew among locals and national outcry reached a fever pitch, Ferguson’s Police Chief Thomas Jackson, City Manager John Shaw, Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty, and Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer were given the boot. In March, the Department of Justice released multiple reports, one of which was a damning assessment of the local police force. The report concluded that, from 2012 to 2014, black Ferguson residents accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 93 percent of arrests, 90 percent of citations, and 88 percent of cases involving force. The DOJ also concluded that Wilson’s shooting of Brown, who had now become the most recognizable face of the #BlackLivesMatter movement sweeping across the country, did not justify criminal charges.
The media eventually left—to Cleveland (Tamir Rice), to Charleston (Walter Scott), to Baltimore (Freddie Gray), to Prairie View (Sandra Bland)—and Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb north of St. Louis, continued to bleed: locals business were looted and burned, and property damage was estimated to be in the millions. Divided by Brown’s killing, communities stood at odds with one another unsure of a way forward.
But what of Ferguson now, one year later?
“Ferguson: The Shooting” by Wesley Lowery
Brown’s sudden stop was fleeting, but it became the subject of many hours of investigation and testimony. The 12-member grand jury met for 25 days from August through late November, and prosecutors focused more on the meaning of Brown’s movement toward Wilson than on any other moment on that August afternoon.
Was Brown trying to surrender? Was he charging the officer? Was he falling from his wounds? Did his movement have any meaning at all?
“The Cop” by Jake Halpern
The Justice Department found other examples of systemic racial bias in Ferguson. From 2012 to 2014, the Ferguson police issued four or more tickets to blacks on seventy-three occasions, and to whites only twice. Black drivers were more than twice as likely as others to be searched during vehicle stops, even though they were found to possess contraband twenty-six per cent less often. Some charges, like “manner of walking in roadway,” were brought against blacks almost exclusively.
Wilson told me that Ferguson’s force had a few bigoted members, but he denied that racism was institutional. The Justice Department’s numbers were “skewed,” he said. “You can make those numbers fit whatever agenda you want.”
“A Year Later, Ferguson Sees Change, but Asks If It’s Real” by Monica Davey
The pressure to swiftly present a new image here is palpable. City leaders say they hope to reach a settlement with the Justice Department over its findings that the city’s law enforcement policies were predatory, and that city officials stood by as some employees shared racist emails.
But much remains in flux. Efforts to hire more black officers have moved slowly: A year ago at this time, four of the city’s approximately 50 officers were black; by this week, five were, including Chief Anderson. For now, Chief Anderson is expected to stay only six months; hiring permanent police chiefs and city managers can take as long as nine months, officials here say. (The city already has a number of vacant jobs, including human resources director and public works director.)
“The Ferguson Protests Worked” by Julia Craven, Ryan J. Reilly, and Mariah Stewart
Ferguson’s protests spawned at least 40 state measures aimed at improving police tactics and use of force. The national conversation around race and policing has shifted so dramatically that the director of the FBI said law enforcement officials historically enforced “a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups” and discussed how unconscious racial bias affects police officers with no pushback from the law enforcement community.
“I don’t think there has ever been this level of attention being paid to communities all over the country,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. “As a country, it will be shame on us for missing the opportunity ... given the kind of elevated attention that is being paid to criminal justice.”
“Ferguson, One Year Later: From a City to a Symbol” by Kevin McDermott
As with most epic conflicts, Ferguson engendered some myth-making. Most notably, it fostered a devastating new civil rights slogan — “Hands up, don’t shoot!” — that a U.S. Department of Justice report would later determine was based on a fiction.
But the shooting alerted a sobered nation to some broader truths about police-minority relations in an era that not so long ago was being smugly declared “post-racial.”
“It really pulled the covers back on how people of color have been treated for years” by police, says Miranda Jones, vice president of the Better Family Life Neighborhood Resource Center, a nonprofit community service organization based in Ferguson. “It was a national wake-up call.”
“Ferguson Class of 2014” by Samantha Storey and Savannah O’Leary
What happened to Michael Brown hurt me. I’m just now really speaking to people about it. Like I go on his Instagram page and Facebook page quite frequently and just type something – you know, “I miss you,” and stuff like that. Michael Brown was really friendly. I used to always run into him, like, “you’re not going to give me a hug today?” and he would give me this big, ol’ hug. He was like my big old teddy bear and he smelled really good. You know when guys wear the cologne? He was really nice and friendly. He was very protective over his close ones.
[Image via Getty]