9 years after Michael Brown's killing, Ferguson's 'sacred ground' evokes calls for progress
Nine years after a police officer killed Michael Brown Jr., about 150 people gathered to celebrate his life and call for continued action to stop the police killings of Black people.
Teddy bears and a bouquet of flowers marked the spot on Canfield Drive where Darren Wilson, then a Ferguson police officer, fatally shot Brown in 2014.
Old friends hugged. Some contemplated his death in silence. Other people bowed their heads to remember his life.
Emotional community members, protesters, local officials and Brown’s parents called on the crowd to remember Brown but also called them to action. They urged the community to continue pushing for better police relations in Black neighborhoods and to participate in local elections to put leaders in office who will protect Black lives.
“We got to unify, or we will continue to die,” Michael Brown Sr. said.
For Brown, seeing the marked-off spot in the middle of the residential street brought back a wave of emotions.
“Every time I step out here I can still feel the energy, I can still feel the crowd, I can still smell everything,” he said. “It’s a sacred ground, but it still has what happened to Mike Brown out here.”
The unarmed Black 18-year-old was shot and killed by Wilson, who is white. Brown’s body remained in the street for 4½ hours after he was shot. On that day nine years ago, people erupted into the streets of Ferguson to decry Brown’s death and set off a wave of protests that lasted for months.
On Wednesday, Ebony Williams said being at the space where Brown’s body lay in the streets was bittersweet. The local organizer is still upset that authorities did not charge Wilson. But, she believes that the long days and nights of protesting Brown’s death created change in the community with police relations.
“I can walk away and know that we did make a difference,” Williams said. “We did change lives, and our lives changed.”
Ferguson Mayor Ella Jones encouraged the crowd of predominantly Black children, women and men to come to Ferguson City Council meetings and other city board meetings to voice their opinions on bills being passed.
Jones said she is Ferguson’s leader because of the movement in the city after Brown’s death. She is working with the police and other city departments to improve race relations between Black and white residents, but she says there is still much work to be done.
“People need to understand that this city belongs to all of us, not some of us — but all of us,” she said. “We need more of the African American culture to step up beyond some of these boards and commissions that make policy for you. If you're not at a table, people can say and do what they want, but if you have a seat at the table, you can have a voice for your community.”