Michael Brown’s Death Didn’t Happen in a Vacuum

By Jamilah King Aug 11, 2014

Michael Brown should be starting freshman orientation at Vatterott College today. Instead, his body is laying in a St. Louis-area morgue pending an investigation into what drove a police officer to shoot and kill the unarmed 18-year-old on Saturday.

Residents of Ferguson, Missouri, the black St. Louis suburb where Brown lived and died, confronted police officers on Sunday in a scene that’s since been described by the national media as one that quickly devolved into "looting." In photos, black residents stood in front of police with their hands up to show that they were unarmed. They chanted the slogans we’ve all become too used to over the years: "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, carried a message scrawled in sharpie on a piece of cardboard: "Ferguson Police Just Executed My Unarmed Son!!!"


The St. Louis Post Dispatch’s editorial board unearthed some of the embers that lit Sunday’s fire. "Michael Brown didn’t get due process," they wrote. "The still unnamed police officer who shot the 18-year-old black teenager dead in Ferguson will get plenty of it."

And you can quantify that anger. Here’s more from the editorial board:

Last year, for the 11th time in the 14 years that data has been collected, the disparity index that measures potential racial profiling by law enforcement in the state got worse. Black Missourians were 66 percent more likely in 2013 to be stopped by police, and blacks and Hispanics were both more likely to be searched, even though the likelihood of finding contraband was higher among whites.

Every year these numbers come out to little fanfare, in part because there isn’t enough political will to do the further study to break them down by precincts and individual officers to determine whether there is a cultural or training problem in entire departments or just a few rogue, racist cops who need to find another line of work.


…In Ferguson, the city where Michael died, the police in 2013 pulled over blacks at a 37 percent higher rate than whites compared to their relative populations. Black drivers were twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested compared to white drivers.

In January, the local chapter of the NAACP filed a civil rights complaint against the St. Louis County police, alleging that "racism is rampant in the department’s hiring, firing and discipline." Now, NAACP leaders and local residents are asking that the FBI take over the investigation into Brown’s death. They don’t trust that justice, however it’s defined at this point, will be served.

As he was readying for college orientation last week, Brown posted one last message on Facebook: "if i leave this earth today," he wrote to a friend, "atleast youll know i care about others more then i cared about my damn self."

The ensuing days and months will who just how much America cared about him. 

Scenes from Sunday’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri:

brown1_081114.jpgBlack residents in Ferguson, Missouri, protest Michael Brown’s shooting. Photo from @SunnyHostin

brown3_081114.jpgResidents march through the streets of Ferguson. Photo from @Lnonblonde

brown5_081114.jpgPhoto from @AntonioFrench

brown6_081114.jpgCrowd at Ferguson Police Headquarters. Photo from @MichaelCalhoun