Three years ago, an unarmed African-American teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer in broad daylight--igniting a firestorm of racial tension and protests in the days, and months, to follow. The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of Darren Wilson reached every corner of the United States, many of whom banded together to underscore the longstanding mistrustful relationship felt between the African-American community and law enforcement.
Despite the time that has passed, there continues to remain a disconnect in the details surrounding the August 9, 2014 incident. In his testimony before the St. Louis grand jury, Wilson argued that Brown reached into his vehicle and fought for his gun.
"I don’t remember seeing him come at me, but I was hit right in the side of the face with a fist. I don’t think it was a full-on swing, I think it was a full-on swing, but not a full shot. I think my arm deflected some of it, but there was still a significant amount of contact that was made to my face."
Wilson, therefore, said that he fired his gun during the struggle as a defense mechanism.
He continued, "At this point I’m like why isn’t this working, this guy is going to kill me if he gets a hold of this gun. I pulled it a third time, it goes off. When it went off, it shot through my door panel and my window was down and glass flew out of my door panel. I think that kind of startled him and me at the same time."
The gunshot, according to Wilson, startled Brown, who subsequently stepped back and put his hands up. Wilson, however, didn't see Brown's behavior as a sign of surrender--quite the opposite.
"The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up," Wilson described.
In the final moments of the incident, the Wilson told the jury that Brown was making grunt-like and "aggravated" sounds before bolting towards him.
"I don’t know how many, I know at least once because I saw the last one go into him. And then when it went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone, it was gone, I mean I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped."
Several witnesses, however, disputed parts, or some, of Wilson's testimony. Most of them reported seeing an altercation in the SUV between Wilson and Brown. Some said Brown punched Wilson when he was partially inside the vehicle. One witness said Brown was never inside the S.U.V.
Forensic tests conducted in the incident's aftermath located Brown's blood or other DNA on Wilson's gun, uniform and police cruiser.
Brown's death sparked the attention of the Justice Department, then led by Attorney General Holder. In 2015, the department released two major findings regarding the civil rights investigations in Ferguson, Missouri.
"The Justice Department found that the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution."
Separately, the Justice Department also announced its decision not to file federal civil rights charges against Wilson.
Holder added, "Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action. The report we have issued and the steps we have taken are only the beginning of a necessarily resource-intensive and inclusive process to promote reconciliation, to reduce and eliminate bias, and to bridge gaps and build understanding.”
But, even three years later, racial tensions continue to plague communities, not only in Ferguson, but elsewhere in the United States.
One activist, Chad Jackson, who visited Brown's memorial on the eve of Brown's death, noted the the fatal police shootings in Maryland, Louisiana, and Minnesota.
"Look what happened in all those other places," Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We haven't gotten any justice yet and we can't stop until things change."
But a lack of change isn't stopping activists from paying tribute to Brown's life. More than two dozen people gathered Tuesday night to rebuild a makeshift memorial in the location where the then 18-year-old died.
"We can never forget this," Meldon Moffitt said to the group of area residents and community activists on Canfield Drive in the Canfield Green apartment complex. "This is ground zero."