On August 9, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an African America man, after a scuffle in Ferguson, Missouri. For four hours, Brown’s dead body remained in the summer sun, face down, blood flowing. Neighbors, shocked at the violence and the police’s disrespect for Brown’s corpse, took photos and shared video. “They killed him for no reason … they just killed this n****r for no reason,” said one man in a video recorded just after shooting.
Garner’s death had sparked outrage. However, the protests and demonstrations paled in comparison to what unfolded in Ferguson. After accounts that Brown had his hands up when he was shot, protesters chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Protests, peaceful and violent, including vandalism and looting, continued for more than a week in Ferguson and across the country, and they dominated cable networks and social media. Americans watched armored vehicles move down small-town streets as military-clad police officers shot tear gas into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. Violence committed against African Americans continued, with one event following another in what seemed to be rapid-fire succession.
In September 2014, Americans watched video from the dashboard camera of South Carolina State Trooper Sean Groubert, who shot a Black motorist, Levar Jones, as he reached down to get his wallet and driver’s license. “I just got my license! You said get my license!” yelled Jones, who was shot several times but remarkably survived. Groubert was fired and charged with felony assault and battery. In November, several weeks after a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict Officer Wilson in the death of Brown, which sparked riots and protests in Ferguson and surrounding areas, Cleveland police officers Frank Garmback and Tim Loehmann killed Tamir Rice, 12, who was holding a toy gun. On April 4, 2015, Rice’s death was followed by the killing of Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina. According to the official report, Officer Michael Slager stopped Scott for a broken taillight, and Scott resisted arrest, taking control of Slager’s taser. However, a bystander stated that Scott had struggled with Officer Slager but then ran away; Slager fired eight times, killing Scott.
The year 2015 brought with it more police violence directed at African-American men, keeping the issue front and center. On April 12, Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray, and video footage captured police dragging Gray to the police van. Gray, who sustained injuries to his neck and spine while being transported by the police, fell into a coma and died a week later. Protests were organized, resulting in riots with at least 19 police officers injured, approximately 200 people arrested, 154 vehicle fires, 15 structural fires, hundreds of police and Maryland Army National Guard troops deployed, and a state of emergency declared in the city.
Though not related to police violence, on June 17, in Charleston, South Carolina, White supremacist Dylann Roof opened fire at the historic Black African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing nine people, including the pastor, State Senator Clementa Pinckney. Roof left behind a collection of racist selfies and a racist manifesto explaining his actions, and the incident provoked a push to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings.
After the massacre in Charleston, Obama seemed to be much more unequivocal in haters of confronting head-on issues of race, racial hatred, and America’s seeming determination to lock away Black men. Days later, in an interview for the podcast “WTF with Mark Maron,” the president used the N-Word, declaring “Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n****r in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”