Silence in Ferguson to mark death of Michael Brown

THE City of Ferguson will fall silent today for four and a half minutes to remember Michael Brown on the first anniversary of his death.

Protesters in front of the police station. Picture: AFP
Protesters in front of the police station. Picture: AFP

The 18-year-old’s father, Michael Brown Sr, will hold a memorial at the spot where his son died to mark the length of time his body was left on the street without being covered over by police.

The service will be the culmination of a weekend of protest and remembrance for African American Brown, who was shot dead by white former Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson.

Sign up to our World Explained newsletter

On Friday night protesters blocked traffic outside the police station in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, and set up a weekend-long camp on a main street.

Artists make their point in St Louis. Picture: AFP

Brown’s death sparked a year of riots and rage in America and put police under the harshest scrutiny for a generation. A slew of controversial police killings sparked a national debate, with President Obama repeatedly calling for police reform.

Even James Comey, the director of the FBI, said in a candid speech on race relations that there is a “disconnect” between police in America and ethnic minorities.

But now that a year has passed, it seems that for every step forward there has been one step back. For all the claims that things have changed, it seems like just a matter of time before, as happened in Ferguson, protesters are back out on the streets facing off with riot police armed with tear gas and guns.

The Department of Justice report into the City of Ferguson found it was racist and unconstitutional, using mostly black residents as a cash machine to burnish the budget.

Yet the police force still has just five black officers out of a complement of 53, even though 67 per cent of the population is African American.

The city appointed an interim black judge and an interim black police chief.

But the judge will retire next year and the police chief is only on a secondment from his force in Glendale, Arizona.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon passed legislation that capped the amount municipalities can earn from traffic fines to 12.5 per cent of their total budget. Ferguson had relied on the fines for 14 per cent of its budget, so it is hardly a huge reduction.

On West Florissant Street, the focus of the protests a year ago, progress is mixed. About two thirds of the businesses have returned and rebuilt.

The Quik Trip petrol station and convenience store that was burned down is to become an employment and training centre, meaning residents of the Canfield apartments, where Brown was living, have nowhere nearby to buy basic supplies.

Across the US, the list of African Americans killed by police continues to grow.

In New York black father-of-six Eric Garner, 29, was choked to death by a white police officer who was not indicted by a grand jury.

In Cleveland, Ohio, 12-year-old black boy Tamir Rice was shot dead by a white cop in a playground because he thought his toy gun was real.

Then there was Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died of a broken spine after being arrested and driven around in a police van in Baltimore, Maryland in a killing which sparked riots.

In North Charleston, South Carolina, former officer Michael Slager was fired and indicted for murder for shooting dead Walter Scott, a black man, in the back as he ran away.

In response President Obama set up a taskforce to look at police killings but it looks set to be largely ignored.

Professor Maria Haberfeld, of the department of law and police science at John Jay University in New York, called such a measure a “band aid”.

She told Scotland on Sunday: “We need transformative change that will require much harsher standards for recruitment and selection. We need to increase the age of recruitment to 25, as that’s when people develop emotional intelligence.

“We need to stop recruiting people with criminal backgrounds and raise standards for tests for police. I’d rather have fewer police officers but better trained officers.”

The Black Lives Matter movement, a group formed during the Ferguson protests, is pushing hard for change. But in a recent internet Q&A session DeRay McKesson, one of its leaders, said: “We won’t undo 400 years of racism in 365 days.”

McKesson said: “People built these systems that kill black people.

“And we can undo them and build new systems and structures.”