FERGUSON, Mo.—On a humid Sunday morning, hundreds crowded around a makeshift memorial on Canfield Drive, a pile of flowers and stuffed animals soaked by an evening of rain. They gathered to remember and to hear the words of community leaders, poets and a grieving father. Right around 12:02 PM, the crowd observed four and a half minutes of silence before walking en masse to a nearby church.
Exactly one year ago, on this same stretch of suburban road, Michael Brown’s body lay on the pavement for four and a half hours. Crowds gathered. Protests erupted. A convenience store went up in flames. Police arrived on the scene with armored vehicles, dogs and tear gas canisters. Camera crews from CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC followed suit. Months later, when a grand jury found police officer Darren Wilson justified in the shooting, the scene repeated itself with more fury and fire.
Within days, a small municipality nestled in North St. Louis County’s suburban sprawl became center stage for bubbled-over racial strife in America. Words like use-of-force, body camera, police militarization and municipal court all vaulted into the national lexicon. A burgeoning movement rallied around the common sense, yet somehow controversial, demand that Black Lives Matter. Young activists kept up the pressure in St. Louis. And when black men and women died in police shootings or police custody in other parts of the country—Cleveland, North Charleston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Waller County, and Arlington—the names of the deceased became impossible to ignore.
After night fell in Ferguson on Sunday, a day of peaceful remembrance ended in violence. Official reports say officers returned fire at an 18-year-old, critically wounding him, after he fired shots at a police SUV. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the shooter, Tyrone Harris, is in critical condition.
Despite last night’s violence, the weekend of marches and memorials offered community members time to reflect on the year in which Ferguson became an international symbol. Residents, protesters, and officials who spoke with The Nation expressed a range of views, from ambivalence to hope, about whether Michael Brown’s death brought forth positive change.
“I hate that it had to come to this for change, but the police have changed. They don’t even stop me anymore,” said Ryan Walls, 29, standing feet away from the spot where Brown died. Walls works as a cook at Busch Stadium, which was one of many public destinations in St. Louis that saw Black Lives Matter protests this year.
“Somehow, the police have got to come out and interact with the community. Actions speak louder than words,” said Aaron Durgins, 37. Durgins pointed to an empty lot, the previous location of a burned QuickTrip, where the Urban League, a local non-profit, plans to build a jobs center. “That’s going to be perfect. We just got to get people to go.”