FERGUSON, Missouri – Gunfire erupted here Sunday night after an eventful but peaceful day commemorating the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.“Multiple shots fired in Ferguson. Please leave the area of Ferguson and West Florissant,” the St. Louis County Police Department tweeted just after 11:15 p.m. local time. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was injured. Later, the police department confirmed in a statement that a police officer was involved in a shooting “after officers came under heavy gunfire.”
Hours earlier, hundreds of people gathered at the memorial for Brown, an unarmed black teen who was shot dead in the middle of the street by a white police officer exactly one year ago.
Teddy bears and candles now mark the memorial on Canfield Drive where the community’s outrage over Brown’s death planted the seeds for protests that would grow into a national movement decrying police violence.
Flanked by other families who have lost loved ones at the hands of police, Michael Brown Sr. led the crowd to pause in silence at 11:55 a.m. CT – the exact time the unarmed teen was shot and killed. He stood in silence for four and a half minutes, representing each hour his son’s body was left in the street.“Just wanted to give all my love to my family, friends, my people, my new friends, my my world,” he said.
Elenore Humphrey, a student in St. Louis, described the gathering as a powerful and solemn moment, the air still thick with raw emotion.
“It’s loss. It’s remorse. But it’s also anger. All of the emotions you don’t want to have,” she said. “All of the emotions that a lot of people have the privilege to ignore.”
From the memorial site, Brown’s family locked arms as they marched in the relentless summer heat, pausing for another four and a half minutes before pressing forward toward Greater Saint Marks Church, a place that became a central safe haven for protest groups in the aftermath of last summer’s unrest. Hundreds of people followed behind them, a diverse crowd that ranged the spectrum.
“This is so much more integrated. It used to be very localized. This is regional. This is national,” said Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents Ferguson. “There are more people engaged in St. Louis. Hopefully they can turn into activists.”
Jessica Jakul, a white St. Louis resident, brought her family – young daughter included – to the march to expose them to a world beyond their own.
“I’m rebelling against my own upbringing,” she said. “I’m white. I hear all of the resistance to the movement. I try to expose all of these inequities to the people I know in my world.”
Sunday night, torrential rain poured down on Ferguson. The St. Louis Airport lost power briefly due to thunderstorms. Still, a small but committed band of activists remained out on the city’s main drag, West Florissant Avenue, insisting their voices be heard.
At 10:25 p.m. local time, the St. Louis County Police Department tweeted, “Our dept continues to assist FergusonPD with protest activities near West Florissant and Ferguson Avenue.” Shortly thereafter, a line of police in riot gear blocked commercial traffic there. Several minutes later, the SLCPD tweeted again: “Police attempting to uphold peace and prevent further businesses from being damaged on West Florissant. Several objects thrown at police.”
To his friends and family he was known as “Big Mike,” a gentle giant who loved rap and turn beats. He had just finished summer school at Normandy High and was looking forward to his first day of college at a trade school nearby.
But last Aug. 9, Brown was shot dead by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Public outrage over the killing led to massive demonstrations in the streets of Ferguson as their protests were met with rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets fired by police. The violent clashes between police and protesters went on for days, drawing international attention and condemnations from national leaders.
Months later, a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict Wilson and more rounds of unrest ensued. Calls for “Black Lives Matter” echoed in communities across the country as Brown’s death raised awareness to the countless other black men and women who had died at the hands of police.It has been a grueling 12 months for Brown’s family, whose fight for justice took them across the country and overseas in Mike’s name. They joined a growing list of families who lost loved ones to gun and police violence, and hoped to turn their tragedy into change. The toll has been especially great on Brown’s parents – Michael Brown Sr. says he has not shaved his beard since is son was gunned down and has no plans to trim it until substantial progress has been made.
The Brown family and partnering groups turned the anniversary of the teen’s death into a full weekend of peaceful protests. The elder Michael Brown led a march from the place of his death to Normandy High School. Other groups scheduled free music concerts and block parties to mark the date.
Celebrated hip hop artists Talib Kweli and Common headlined a fundraising concert Sunday night in St. Louis called “Ferguson is Everywhere.” Attendees were asked to bring canned food for a food pantry and cash donations for the Brown family.
For the activists who have been protesting since the day of Brown’s death, seeing the movement alive and growing a full year since when they first took the street meant a great deal.
“I’m emotional because people are growing over a year to be something great,” activist and organizer Tory Russell said.