Michael Brown was a quiet person with a great sense of humor. According to his teachers, he was a “gentle giant,” a student who loomed large at 6’4 290 pounds and caused no problems in school. A friend of Michael’s since middle school Hershel Johnson said he and Michael spoke at graduation, and Michael said, “he was not going to end up like some people on the streets; he was going to get an education.” Michael was living up to what he said to his friend; he was just two days from starting school at Vatterott College. (St. Louis Dispatch).
On August 9th, 2014, just before noon Michael and his friend Dorian Johnson left Ferguson Market and Liquor. Surveillance video catches Brown stealing some cigars. The two young men proceeded to walk down the middle of West Florissant Avenue. Around noon officer Wilson pulls up beside the two in his patrol car and tells them to move to the sidewalk. At this time, Officer Wilson notices that Brown fits the description of the person who stole from the convenience store. The officer then proceeded to block the two men and traffic with his patrol SUV as he calls the dispatcher.
After Darren Wilson calls the dispatcher, somehow Michael Brown’s arm ends up inside Officer Wilson’s patrol vehicle. Some witnesses said that Brown punched Officer Wilson while Brown was partially inside the vehicle, and one witness said that no part of Brown was in the vehicle. What Officer Wilson noted in his testimony was that Michael reached inside his patrol vehicle and fought for his gun. Forensic evidence found Michael’s blood or other DNA outside the driver’s side door, inside the driver door, and on the left thigh, shirt, and weapon of Officer Wilson. However, why Michael’s arm ended up inside the patrol car is unknown. What is known is that two shots were fired by officer Wilson while inside the vehicle. One-shot lodged into the door of a patrol vehicle while the other grazed Michael Brown’s right thumb.
After the two shots were fired, Brown ran East, and Officer Wilson followed on foot. Soon after, on Canfield Drive, Michael turned back around and moved towards Officer Wilson. That was when Officer Wilson fired four more shots, which killed Michael Brown. According to several witnesses, Michael Brown had his hands up when Darren Wilson fired his weapon.
Following the death of Michael Brown, his dead body laid in the street for hours before it was removed from the scene by police. “By time his body was removed, even the children had seen the body and blood of their neighbor and friend. Dozens more cops were assembling to secure the scene a white policeman’s killing of an unarmed Black man as if this street was theirs, as if the young man’s body had never been anything but a mere stage prop in a performance of racial authority. None of these facts were lost on the crowd” (Jeff Chang). This act of police violence and disrespect made the citizens of Ferguson outraged, and the citizens of Ferguson took to the streets in protest. For the next few months, the tension in Ferguson rose tremendously as the verdict by the Grand Jury awaited, and it erupted when no charges were filed against Officer Brown. When this happened, multiple protests in Ferguson escalated to violence because of the police response. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets in hopes of ending the protest. At this point, the citizens of Ferguson and police were already divided, and this response by police only made tensions worse.
On Canfield Drive, where Michael was killed, there is the permanent memorial plaque on the sidewalk. Around that plaque, there have been several memorials that have sprung up. Immediately following Michael’s death, a memorial of stuffed animals and flowers, postcards and souvenirs, and other items were laid gently by the side of the road where Michael was killed. However, only a month after Michael’s death, the huge memorial of stuffed animals, T-shirts, posters, photographs, cards, and other items went up into flames. Following the fired, it did not take long for residents of Ferguson to re-erect the burnt memorial. To this day, in 2019, five years after Michael’s death, residents of Ferguson, Missouri, hold multiple events to commemorate and remember the wrongful killing of Michael Brown.
The death of Michael Brown went from a public outcry in Ferguson and turned into a national movement. Activists who drive the Black Lives Matter movement and academics who study it say it all began with Brown’s death when images of his body lying on the street of a northern St. Louis suburb and accounts of his killing spread widely through Twitter and sparked protests and media attention. Now Black Lives Matter serves as a banner under which multiple groups protest police brutality.