Five years ago, it would be pretty safe to say that most of America had never heard of Ferguson, Missouri.
But on Aug. 9, 2014, that little Midwest town outside of St. Louis became a permanent fixture in our nation’s vernacular when unarmed teenager Mike Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Sadly, Brown’s life was devalued not only on the street as he laid dead for four and a half hours, but also among our justice system when a grand jury refused to indict Wilson for murder.
Yes, there was no justice, but that doesn’t mean Brown’s tragic death was in vain.
And like Trayvon Martin, Brown woke up Black America. It morphed the phrase “Black Lives Matter” from beyond a popular and empowering hashtag into a bonafide and influential movement. A movement that refuses to be quiet about the injustices that Black and Latino people endure by the hands of systematic racism and police brutality. A movement that mobilized African-Americans and our allies from all walks of life, to take to the streets, create real change, and even use that power to shift the political discourse in this upcoming presidential election.
Just think: The phrase Black Lives Matter would never have been chanted at the Democratic National Convention last month without Mike Brown. Like Emmett Till was to the Civil Rights Movement, Brown is to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“If Mike wasn’t killed and people weren’t directly impacted, if we didn’t leave our homes, I don’t know where or what movement I would (have been in) two years ago,” said Johnetta Elzie, a Ferguson protester and prominent BLM leader recently told USA Today. And without his death, the 27-year-old admitted “I probably wouldn’t be as involved as I am now.”
Here we are, five years later and it’s even more clear this movement in the era of Trump’s America and its message are desperately needed. From Freddie Gray to Sandra Bland to Philando Castile to Korryn Gaines to Tamir Rice to Rekia Boyd, not a month has gone by since Brown’s death that we haven’t heard news of another person of color’s life being cut short at the hands of the police.
And while we know our lives have real value, when will White America understand that? When will police stop automatically perceiving us as criminals? Why must we be an “angel” in order to be considered a victim? When will the police use the same de-escalation techniques on us that they use on White people? Why does our justice system refuse to indict or convict police who murder us? Most important, seeing everything we’ve seen and knowing what we know, why are folks still in such utter denial about racism in America?
Better yet: Why is it still so hard to stop killing us?