Some Ferguson Residents Say Michael Brown's Death Changed How They Express Themselves

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 9, 2019 7:43 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been five years since a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. The shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. sparked months of protests and calls for reforms. St. Louis Public Radio's Chad Davis talked to Ferguson-area residents about what has changed and what has not.

CHAD DAVIS, BYLINE: Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after a confrontation on a neighborhood side street. Aziza Binti can't forget where she was the moment she heard the news.

AZIZA BINTI: I was at home, I believe, on Facebook, and I was seeing these posts about someone having been killed on Canfield.

DAVIS: Binti no longer lives in Ferguson, but Brown's death still haunts her. She used to live near where he was shot.

BINTI: We couldn't get the image of him laying on the ground out of our heads. That is still probably one of the most traumatic things I've ever seen in my life.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. What do we want?

DAVIS: Three days later, Binti decided to pick up a camera to document the protest. She soon became an activist herself. Early protests throughout Ferguson were peaceful. Then, residents say, others from areas outside of Ferguson started rioting and looting. The National Guard was called in, tear gas was used, and businesses were burnt to the ground.

MACC WALKER: People was traveling all around the world - coming from all around the world to our city to tear it up.

DAVIS: That's Macc Walker, a Ferguson resident who moved to the city with his family just three months before Brown was killed.

WALKER: It was not the people that's lived on an everyday basis. You don't think we enjoyed going to that QuikTrip? You don't think we enjoyed walking to the stores that we can't walk to anymore? - have to drive two miles to get gas. I don't think anybody wanted that to happen.

DAVIS: In the following months, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown Jr. Soon after, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Ferguson police were disproportionately pulling over African Americans during traffic stops, and the city's budget was swelling from those fines. A report by Missouri's attorney general shows the disparity of traffic stops for African Americans has actually increased in Ferguson from 2014 to 2018.

Following Brown's death, the civic group formed out of the Ferguson Commission came up with 47 priorities to solve the city's racial inequity. So far, the group says only five have been met. Former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Daniel Isom was on the commission. He says while reforms like increasing police training standards are underway, there is still much more that needs to be done.

DANIEL ISOM: The reality is that there are some systemic problems from a social or economic - educational problems - that I think are the bigger and more thornier issues that we need to address.

DAVIS: As reforms continue to roll out, new businesses have been opening up throughout the city. That's partly why Walker's family decided to stay in Ferguson. His sister Myrless Jones is excited about some of the changes.

MYRLESS JONES: As the community - yeah, we're starting to come together and start new projects and, you know, do different things in a community. Like, they have a Boys and Girls Club that's coming. I'm really excited about that - like, really excited. I mean, yeah, it has got better. It takes time.

DAVIS: Ferguson also changed how some people express themselves. Aziza Binti says that's especially true for her.

BINTI: Since I could get killed at any time, to hell with it. I'm going to be as blackity (ph) black, black, extra black with black on the side as I want to be.

DAVIS: Michael Brown Jr.'s death continues to impact people here. Five years later, his father is asking St. Louis County prosecutors to reopen the case as activists continue to debate policing policies and practices.

For NPR News, I'm Chad Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.