Ferguson, Mo. had spent three months besieged by speculation and anxiety when the news broke a year ago Tuesday. The grand jury considering whether to charge officer Darren Wilson with a crime for the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown had concluded its work. That night, prosecutor Bob McCulloch would announce that Wilson would not be charged.
The immediate aftermath of the announcement was violence. President Obama addressed the nation, urging peace and calm. Most networks carrying the remarks cut to a split screen — showing riots breaking out in the streets of Ferguson next to the president’s pleas. Dozens of storefronts were looted, some were burned to the ground. And at least one man, Deandre Joshua, was killed during the chaos. Officials in St. Louis told The Post this week that there are no updates in the investigation into his murder.
A year later, Ferguson, and the protest movement and new wave of still-ongoing activism that it sparked — remains the chief Rorschach test that reflects the complex state of American race relations.
Dual reports by the Department of Justice buoyed both sides: one found that Wilson knew Brown was a suspect in a robbery, that Brown likely attacked Wilson during an altercation at the officer’s vehicle, and that Brown’s hands were probably not up in surrender when he was shot and killed.
But the other report by the DOJ found that, as protesters had for months insisted, Ferguson PD engaged in racist policing and ticketing practices that destroyed their credibility and relationship with the city’s black residents.
St. Louis remains torn over what happened last year. Some of the storefronts that were looted have reopened, while lots, where other buildings were burned to the ground, remain vacant. Police chief Tom Jackson, as well as the city manager and several local court officials have since resigned, and voters have elected the most diverse city council in Ferguson’s history earlier this year. Mayor James Knowles, a divisive figure among many of the activists, remains in office.
And the passionate national conversation around race, policing and justice continues. Chicago is bracing for potential unrest that could come after the release of a new video of a black man being shot and killed by the police (that officer is expected to be charged on Tuesday.) In Minneapolis, where protests continue after the shooting of an unarmed black man there, police are searching for three white men who allegedly shot and wounded five Black Lives Matter protesters on Monday night.
Data and media coverage
At the time of Brown’s death, there was no reliable national data on how many people are killed by on-duty police officers and the circumstances of those deaths. A handful of crowd-sourced and volunteer organizations had been attempting to track police shootings and in-custody deaths, but federal data was severely lacking and inaccurate where it did exist.
In an attempt to provide new context and analysis to the national conversation about police use of force, The Post launched a national database to track all police shootings by on-duty officers this year. Using similar methodology, The Guardian launched The Counted — a database tracking all deaths, on and off duty, shootings and non-shootings, at the hands of police officers this year.
Those projects, which have allowed for new levels of analysis about when police are using deadly force and why, have prompted officials at the Department of Justice to begin a similar data collection project — and for top law enforcement officials to call for better record keeping.
“It is unacceptable that The Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the U.K. are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between police and civilians,” FBI Director James Comey declared during an October meeting with elected officials and law enforcement from across the nation. “That is not good for anybody.”
Some police shootings that previously may have gone unnoticed are now receiving attention from both local activist groups and media. Most of the nation’s most prominent publications have devoted more reporting resources to issues of policing (the author of this piece, for example, covered Congress and national politics prior to Ferguson. He now covers issues of policing and justice full-time.)
Officers charged, and shooting deaths of unarmed black men
While Wilson was not charged for the death of Brown, in the months since, charges have been announced for at least 14 police officers involved in on-duty shootings. Some of those shootings include incidents that predate Brown’s death — such as the 2013 shooting of John Greer.
And that tally does not include the charges for six officers who were involved in the death of Freddie Gray — which sparked nights of riots and protest in Baltimore.
In total, seven police officers have been charged in connection with six of the more than 875 police shootings that have occurred so far in 2015.
It does not appear that officers are being charged at a rate significantly higher since before Ferguson, and the data projects by The Post and Guardian have shown that unarmed black men continue to be shot and killed by police officers at a rate disproportionate to their percentage of the U.S. population (even when the percentages are adjusted to reflect region-specific crime rates and census data).
An unarmed black man has been shot and killed by police roughly once every nine days in 2015, according to Post analysis. In many of those cases, like in the shooting of Brown, the man killed was suspected of burglary or theft or another minor crime.
Of the seven officers charged in police shootings this year, four have been charged for shootings of unarmed black men — Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Sam DuBose and William Chapman.
Overall, officers have been charged in less than 1 percent of the on-duty police shootings that have occurred this year. And, in several prominent shootings from 2014 it has yet to be announced if the officers will face charges.
This week also marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was shot by a Cleveland police officer while playing with a toy gun in a park. It has yet to be determined if the officer who shot Tamir will be charged.
Race in America, and campus protests
The conversations have been propelled by the controversial arrests of black women: from Sandra Bland in the McKinney pool party video in Texas to the video of a school resource officer dragging a high school girl in South Carolina.
Most recently, the protests have taken to college campuses — beginning with demonstrations at Yale and Mizzou, the latter of which resulted in the resignation of the university president. In the aftermath, dozens of college campuses saw spikes in student protest and activism.
“Missouri has had over 400 days of protest,” the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a St. Louis minister heavily involved in the Ferguson protests and a member of the Gov. Jay Nixon’s statewide Ferguson Commission, said earlier this month. “We’ve seen what resilience looks like, and maybe that is part of the inspiration for some of these students, many of whom probably come from the St. Louis and Ferguson area.” And, the conversations come as the nation prepares for the end of the first black presidency — an eight-year period that has galvanized social movements on both sides of the political spectrum.
The activists themselves (and some of the journalists covering them) have come under attack — about their backgrounds, motivations and work or about them personally. And they’ve fought among themselves, while still working to figure out the best tactics for driving change and achieving victories as well as for simply getting along and managing their egos.
And, the ongoing protest movement has come as more than a dozen cities — including St. Louis and Baltimore — have seen significant spikes in murder this year. Top law enforcement officials have cautioned that this does not amount to a national crime wave, but many, including Comey and Drug Enforcement Agency chief Chuck Rosenberg, have said they worry that declining police morale and fear of viral videos are causing officers to pull back — which they say in turn is sparking increases in violence.
That has put new pressure on some of the activists and organizations in many cities to grapple with gang violence and murder — often considered a distraction by those who protest police violence.
“I believe in Black Lives Matter. I was chanting ‘Don’t shoot,’ I was chanting ‘I can’t breathe.’ But you can’t be silent on the other hand when we’re killing ourselves,” filmmaker Spike Lee, whose latest film “Chiraq” addresses both gun violence and police violence, said during an interview with The Post last week. “It’s not just the cops.”
The street memorial of teddy bears and candles for Brown no longer sits in the middle of Canfield Drive in Ferguson. But, just up the street near Reds BBQ — which shuttered after being looted several times, sits a new memorial, to both Brown and Jamyla Bolden, a 9-year-old girl killed earlier this year in a seemingly random shooting. The man who shot and killed her has been arrested and charged with murder.