Michael Brown: The Death that Shook Ferguson

The police shooting of an unarmed black teenager sparked unrest and national debate about systemic racism.

“We are sick of being teargassed, we are sick of being shot at,” a demonstrator yells during street protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. “All of these young people deserve respect and justice.”

A teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9 of that year in the majority-black suburb of St Louis – the fourth unarmed black man to be killed by police in the United States in a month.

He was shot at least six times, his body left on the street for hours as community members watched on.

The racial makeup of that police department, like many others, has not substantially or dramatically changed.

by Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St Louis City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)

Residents took to the streets demanding justice and the release of the police officer’s name.

The protests took place amid long-simmering racial tensions; while only 67 percent of residents were African American, they accounted for 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests, 85 percent of car stops, and nearly 90 percent of all documented uses of force.

Over the following days the protests quickly spiralled; tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse protesters, rumours arose of gunshots fired from the crowd, heavily armoured vehicles were brought in, and a state of emergency was declared.

The unrest drew national and international attention and helped build the Black Lives Matter movement, aimed at fighting for racial justice.

Five years on, Rewind travels back to Ferguson to see what has changed, and how far the community has managed to move.

According to award-winning St Louis filmmaker, Chris Phillips, who lives just a few metres from where Michael Brown was shot, very little has changed.

“A lot of the businesses that are on this side of town haven’t recovered or haven’t rebuilt since what happened in 2014,” he says, and describes how many public services are still located in white-concentrated neighbourhoods.

Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the St Louis City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, says that there were some victories in the courts.

“The rulings that we got and the things that happened, those could not have happened without the protesters willing to sacrifice themselves because, at the end of the day, the brutality that they suffered and which we took to the courts and got favourable rulings, somebody had to be on the receiving end of that,” he says.

But he says any progress has been a drop in the bucket.

“The racial makeup of that police department, like many others, has not substantially or dramatically changed,” he says.