It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since then-Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson’s bullets plowed through the body of 19-year-old Michael Brown Jr.
One year since the teen’s slain body was left lying in the middle of Canfield Drive in the sweltering heat for four hours, his warm blood trickling down the pavement, the responding rage exploding in the air.
Before Ashley Yates, Tef Poe, Erika Totten, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie became high-profile names; before we knew to turn to Alderman Antonio French for updates via Vine; before Kendrick Lamar hit us with another freedom anthem, “Alright,” building on 2011's “HiiiPower”; before we even knew Brown’s last name, #BlackTwitter rose up like a tidal wave and amplified tweets from Ferguson locals spreading the word that their homie #MikeMike had been gunned down by a white cop with a happy trigger finger.
“You just doing too much,” said Lezley McSpadden, Brown’s distraught mother, on the scene after her son was gunned down, her lacerating gaze filled with unspeakable pain. “You just shot all through my baby body.”
The subsequent uprising to seek justice in his name was just the beginning of hyperfocus on a place that would become ground zero for a fully intersectional social-justice movement focused on the dismantling of white supremacy and its attack dogs: police departments across America.
There have been many apt comparisons made between the Watts rebellion of 1965 and the Ferguson uprising, which happened almost 50 years later to the day. Still, the small Missouri town became this generation’s Selma, Ala., a sacred place, a mecca to which social-justice warriors felt compelled to trek. Michael Brown became our Jimmie Lee Jackson, Darren Wilson became James Bonard Fowler and we became filled with the “fierce urgency of now.”
My feelings this time last year were clear: “The anger—hot, hard, fast—intensified until the words ‘[F—k] the police’ burst free. That guttural call-to-arms, which has seared the Hip-Hop generation’s consciousness since N.W.A. put our collective frustration into words, found a home amid the cacophony of rage building on social media and the streets of Ferguson where a community unchained refused to be silenced, even as police tanks and dogs tried their best to intimidate them.”
Those feelings remain firmly intact.
Brown’s state-sanctioned killing led to the intensifying of a perpetual struggle for black safety in a land where our flesh is more valuable as a commodity than as shelter for our humanity. Even though malicious pundits and politicians insisted that the Ferguson teen wasn’t worth the effort, his will be remembered as the death—among so many; too many deaths—through which the mechanisms of anti-black racism were illuminated as if under a black light in a dark, filthy room.
From militarized tanks and rubber bullets to curfews and the unlawful arrests of a free press, this country proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it demands our docility even in the face of relentless brutality or else we immediately become enemies of the state.
President Barack Obama’s failure to speak out against the domestic terrorism being inflicted on black communities by law enforcement, undergirded by this nation’s (in)justice system, was politically safe—yes, maybe even advantageous for him. It was that choice, though, that reflected his divestment from issues that are physically, spiritually and psychologically destroying black people in America.
His silence as the nation’s first black commander in chief stung many, but it also served as a necessary reminder that a politician’s loyalty is first to his or her own legacy, then to a nation that never loved us at all.
As many in black America sought solace in one another, vestiges of self-hatred were shed and we (re)learned to love our blackness, and one another, more completely. We dismissed the right-kind-of-victim fallacy and told the world that wearing hoodies and sagging pants, freestyling and code-switching don’t foreclose on our right to live free in this country. We became less concerned with winning acceptance and more determined to win our freedom.
And the reach quickly expanded beyond U.S. borders.
Activists traveled across the world to show solidarity with the people of Israeli-occupied Palestine and to organize globally around the creed #BlackLivesMattter. Ethopian Jews in Israel also picked up the rallying cry against police brutality, globalizing the black struggle in a way that no history book ever would or could.
I was interviewed for a newspaper in Belgium about the momentum of the movement, and I told the interviewer that what makes this iteration of black resistance different from the civil rights movement is that the spirits of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Assata Shakur and Malcolm X are moving through with a blazing fire that can be contained only by full, systemic recognition and respect for black humanity.
This time it’s not about being treated civilly; it is about the right to navigate the world as both human and black without a permanent target being positioned, center mass, on our chests.
There is so much that could be said about the future of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Here at The Root, we have dedicated our home page to taking a comprehensive look at where it is now, where it’s going and where it has the potential to be.
Today, though, I’m simply thinking about Mike Mike, a 19-year-old man-child with his entire life ahead of him. I’m thinking about what happens in the still of the night when all the cameras are gone and Lesley McSpadden can’t reach for her baby and Michael Brown Sr. can’t call his namesake and Desuirea Harris can’t hug her grandbaby.
That is what this movement was born from: black pain, black love and the mountains we move when we call upon both to see us through. And that pain and that love is what will sustain it.
A luta continua.