FERGUSON, MISSOURI – One year after the shooting that cast greater scrutiny on how police interact with black communities, the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was marked Sunday with 4½ minutes of silence and a march led by his father.
A crowd of hundreds that had gathered to commemorate Brown began their silence at 12:02 p.m., the time he was killed, and the length of time was to symbolize the 4½ hours that his body lay in the street after he was killed. Two doves were released at the end. Police largely remained away from the ceremony.
Michael Brown Sr. held hands with others to lead the march, which started at the site where his son, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. A grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November, but the shooting helped spur a nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement that raised difficult questions about law enforcement treatment of minorities and police use of military-grade equipment while controlling crowds.
Pausing along the route at a permanent memorial for his son, Michael Brown Sr. said, “Miss you.”
He had thanked supporters before the march for not allowing what happened to his son to be “swept under the carpet.”
Michael Brown Sr. had also led a parade involving several hundred people on Saturday. He said his family is still grieving, but he believes his son’s legacy can be seen in the increased awareness of police shootings, and renewed skepticism when officers describe their side of events leading up to those shootings.
Vernice Durgins, a 60-year-old black woman from Ferguson, said she’s seen little progress in the past year.
“It makes me sick to think what happened,” she said, “I looked (at) it like it could have been my sons or grandsons.”
Some who marched in the Saturday parade wore T-shirts with likenesses of Brown or messages such as “Please stop killing us” or “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” which became a rallying cry during the sometimes-violent protests that followed the shooting a year ago. Some carried signs or wore shirts commemorating others who have been killed in confrontations with police.
Although the protests were largely subdued during the day, they picked up after dark as hundreds marched outside Ferguson’s police department on Saturday night, mocking the handful of officers who stood watch.
Some of the demonstrators carved and ate from the head of a roasted pig, which earlier in the day had the name “Darren Wilson” written on the side of the animal. The pig’s head was placed on a concrete barrier near the sidewalk separating the protesters from the officers.
But the focus of the weekend is largely on Brown, who graduated from high school weeks before the shooting and planned to go to trade school to study to become a heating and air conditioning technician.
Relatives and friends described Brown as a quiet, gentle giant who stood around 6-foot-3 (190 cm) and weighed nearly 300 pounds (136 kg). But police said Brown stole items from a convenience store and shoved the owner who tried to stop him on the morning of Aug. 9, 2014. Moments later, he and a friend were walking on Canfield Drive when Wilson, who is white, told them to move to the sidewalk.
That led to a confrontation inside Wilson’s police car. It spilled outside, and Wilson claimed that Brown came at him, menacingly, leading to the fatal shooting. Some witnesses claimed Brown had his hands up in surrender. Federal officials concluded there was no evidence to disprove testimony by Wilson that he feared for his safety, nor was there reliable evidence that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot.
The shooting led to protests, some violent, and the unrest escalated again in November when a St. Louis County grand jury determined that Wilson did nothing wrong. He resigned days later. The November riots included fires that burned more than a dozen businesses.
The Justice Department reached the same conclusion in March, clearing Wilson. But in a separate report, the Justice Department cited racial bias and profiling in policing as well as a profit-driven municipal court system that often targeted black residents, who make up about two-thirds of Ferguson’s populace.
Ferguson’s city manager, police chief and municipal judge resigned within days of that report. All three were white. The new judge, interim city manager and interim police chief are all black.