Ferguson And America: One Year Later

On the first anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, writers and activists weigh in on where we are now.

Photographer Alex Welsh
August 09, 2015
Ferguson And America: One Year Later

On August, 9th, 2014, Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson. In the 12 months since that time, history has been made, racial injustice in America has continued, and the power of people raising their voices has been seen time and time again. The FADER asked a group of important voices to weigh in on a two-part question:

What has the last year meant and what does the future look like from here on out?

Here are their thoughts.

Aminatou Sow

Founder of Techlady Mafia

The list is long: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Kindra Darnell Chapman, Michelle Cusseaux, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland...names and stories I am heartbroken to know. We didn’t just hear about these tragedies, we saw brutal and raw video collected by cellphones and broadcast by social media. We have clear evidence to corroborate our deep mistrust of the police. We have clear reasons to be afraid.

I am more aware of my blackness and even more aware that at any moment, even in my comfortable life it could happen to me. I wonder if it’ll make the news. What hashtag or pictures they'll use... if someone will say I was "no angel" or that I had too much attitude? How will my white friends react? It's a sick mental exercise and does nothing but fuel my anxiety around law enforcement. Among my friends, the anguish is palpable and my therapist says we’re not studying enough the psychological toll racism takes on people of color. Yes, that would be crucial especially in this moment.

In the midst of it all and despite the tragedy, it’s hard not to feel proud of the many young black activists around the country. All year they’ve kept us informed, pressured the authorities for more transparency and made sure the names I mentioned earlier are seared in our memories. Never forget them: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Kindra Darnell Chapman, Michelle Cusseaux, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland. There are many more we haven’t heard of.

DeRay Mckesson

Activist and member of We The Protesters

In a year, the protests have exposed the ways in which police violence affects communities across the country, and disproportionately impacts black communities. And, in a year, a broad consensus has formed in agreement that the way that we think about safety in communities and the role of the police must change. It is also important that questioning the police and/or official government narratives about events is now commonplace, both in communities and in mainstream media—and this is so because we have been lied to before. But now, there is an awareness, and a disposition to question, that is important.

The movement exposed the corrupt and violent police practices that resulted in the untimely deaths of so many. And now, the shift will be on crafting sets of solutions that end the corrupt and violent police practices so that no more lives are lost

Ferguson And America: One Year Later
Wesley Lowery

Reporter at The Washington Post

The last year meant the birth of a new urgency for an issue that long needed it: the lack of available, reliable information about many instances in which police use deadly force each year. The last year—from Ferguson to Staten Island to Cleveland to Selma to North Charleston to Baltimore to Charleston to Texas to Cincinnati—meant a new reckoning with the fractured and often-fatal relationships between black communities and not only the police who are charged with protecting them, but also with many of their white neighbors. And, the last year, has meant new questions, and new scrutiny for police departments around the country with regard to their practices, policies, training, and hiring. And, the last year has meant new and needed pressure on news organizations and news gathers to do our jobs: telling the stories of and seeking answers for those who have been killed by officers paid by our taxes.

There seems little reason to believe this conversation is going away, that this moment in time is reaching its conclusion. The protest groups seem as determined—if as often inwardly bickering—as ever, and are gearing up to extend their reach and their voices into the 2016 presidential election. And cases like Walter Scott and Sam DuBose continue to buoy support across the political spectrum for body cameras. Meanwhile, African Americans now rank race relations as the nation’s most pressing issue. With the term of the nation’s first black president coming to an end, it seems unlikely the urgency that many are feeling around the issues of race and justice will be softening in the near future. And, more than any other factor, this moment has been created, and propelled, by police shootings—and what we know is that those aren’t going to stop happening, being caught on video, and spurring calls for justice anytime soon.

Jean Grae

Rapper and activist

The last year has been heart breaking, soul defeating and full of anger.

So many of us have been beaten, murdered and injured. Violated, blamed and disrespected. Not that this hasn't existed. The instant and bonding format of social media and the internet in general, had us thinking "in front of the world? They would do this in front of the world?" The answer we now know, is "yes." Without a care. We have learned to organize in a different way. To gather. To support. In the hope and protest of our spirit given freedom and our right to live. The fact that there is not a regard for our lives, that #BlackLivesMatter has to be said in the damn 21st century has me not able to answer the second part of the question.

I don't know what our future looks like. There are days when it's not possible to muster up any hope. So, I don't know.

Ferguson And America: One Year Later
Doreen St. Felix

Writer and editor of Lenny

Anniversaries are fraught measures. I think we measure time like that because we believe in something like growth, but I've read and heard from many protestors in Ferguson the exact opposite of that thought: that nothing has changed. With the exception of few and limited reforms in certain police departments, nothing has changed. I venture to guess that "the year since Ferguson" only feels that way to people who have not been routinely targeted by the police; for those of us who have, the year since feels more like a lifetime. But visibility has increased. The oppressed now control a record the oppressors cannot censor. I don't think its premature to say that citizens' harnessing of social media's power to disseminate information will continue to force government institutions, local and federal, to submit to transparency. That is important. To me, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is an anti-censorship, radical transparency movement, one that will necessarily change who gets to write history from here on out.

The future looks familiar; we know from history that the future will act like its past. I feel bleak about the immediate future and how could I not? In the months after Mike Brown was killed, Freddie Gray was killed, Akai Gurley was killed, Sandra Bland died in the state's custody. Every black person I know, especially us young ones, has fallen in the kind of protracted depression we sensed our parents suffered from but had hoped we might have escaped. But I do have some hope about things. America has always been a country of cities, so I am optimistic that community policing models will continue to take root. Those work and make people feel safe and in control.

Ferguson And America: One Year Later
Ferguson And America: One Year Later
Mariah Stewart

Ferguson News Fellow at The Huffington Post

This last year has meant so much and has made a powerful mark in America's history. As it hosted the relaunch of the civil rights movement with a new generation. I often have a wide range of emotions as I reflect on what has transpired.

Within the past year, America's dirty little secrets of oppression, racial injustice, and police brutality have been put on the forefront of national discussions. This past year has been a staple in the Black Lives Matter movement—that alone it shows that some progress has been made. Politicians and government are finally recognizing there is a problem in our country with police officers abusing their authority.

I don't know how I can possibly sum up what this past year has meant—it was powerful to say the least. In terms of my fellowship with Huffington Post, this past year has been a significant learning experience. I'm grateful for my opportunity with such a great organization. I had the chance to dive deep into a tough beat and really learn what it takes to be a responsible journalist.

Like mentioned before. Progress has been made. Police reform is happening, municipal court reform is happening, minimum wage is being raised, politicians are being more honest about race in America, and officer-involved shootings seem to be monitored more than ever now. However, there is still a ways to go. Hopefully, in the future we will see a decline in violence, a decline in officer-involved shootings, and a decline in getting victimized for being a minority and for being poor. Minorities are hurting in America, and that's why we seen riots and protests, because they have reached a boiling point.

At least we know, media coverage will pay attention and not ignore these killings anymore. In terms of my career, I hope to continue covering the social injustice news beat. I love Huffington Post and hope to continue on my journalism journey with them.

The Reverend Broderick Greer

Curate of Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church and Program Director of City of Soul, an Episcopal Service Corps program

Almost no one I know could or can single out Ferguson, Missouri on a map, but what transpired in that small St. Louis suburb last August singled out what some call this nation's original sin: anti-black racism. For decades, black citizens of Ferguson had endured the oppressive hand of white racist government officials, pushing them to the edge of complacency, forcing them to harness their collective power to say, "Enough." At demonstration after demonstration, citizens of conscience demanded justice in the name of martyred Michael Brown, writing an indictment of local (and national) law enforcement systems in the blood of the slain black teen. From Ferguson, a global, intersectional movement for human rights founded by two queer black women and one Nigerian-American woman —Black Lives Matter—gained increasing attention, drawing thousands of people onto the streets of Tacoma, Tel Aviv, and Toronto.

Since 1619, history on this continent has been marred by widespread white dehumanization of black bodies. For centuries, U.S. capitalism has accrued power and wealth on the backs of enslaved people, Jim Crow segregation, redlining, housing discrimination, education access gaps, and for-profit imprisonment. This deep social, economic, and spiritual fragmentation will only be reversed and healed through social, economic, and spiritual reparations, meaning a radical redistribution of compassion, wealth, and truth.

Ferguson And America: One Year Later
Ferguson And America: One Year Later