Ferguson shooting: Four years after Michael Brown's death, how have things changed?

Things may look different in Ferguson, but police shootings persist across America

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 08 August 2018 13:40
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Ferguson shooting: Four years on, how have things changed?

Four years ago the death of teenager Michael Brown sparked violent protests on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and led to a national discussion about police violence against people of colour.

A handful of efforts have since been made to change the system, despite police shootings across the country continuing at an alarming rate.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 shooting — in which a white police officer shot Mr Brown, a black man, as he walked down the street — the backlash was severe, and the public attention placed on Ferguson revealed deep racial tensions in the city.

The shooting also pushed for a reckoning across the country, and continues to serve as an example each time a black individual is shot by police in situations that critics say shows unwarranted use of force and deadly weapons.

But has anything changed?

In Ferguson, things at least look different

The shooting of Mr Brown led the Justice Department to conduct a study of the situation there, and that probe ultimately revealed deeply entrenched and blatant racist bias in the police department.

The study — and the unrest that followed the shooting itself — forced a change in Ferguson.

The city has seen an increase in the number of black members of the city council, the number of minorities on the police force, and the instalment of a black chief of police there.

To put those changes into numbers, the number of black city council members on the seven-person panel jumped from one to three, while the number of black officers on the police force jumped from four to at least 10. White members of the force also declined, from 48 to at least as low as 26.

Were other police forces impacted?

The United States has nearly 18,000 individual police agencies, and each of those police forces largely has authority with how they run their operations.

While the Justice Department during the presidency of Barack Obama offered up community policing initiatives and investigated “patterns and practices” of police departments, the police agencies themselves were not required to voluntarily engage in community police initiatives.

Plus, since the agencies largely have authority to determine their own policies and budget guidelines, they could determine whether to provide de-escalation training to officers.

The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that they are uninterested in those types of initiatives and investigations championed by the previous administration.

Either way, the number of people who have been shot and killed by police — on a national scale — has appeared to roughly stay the same. Individual cities may have seen changes, but the aggregate is generally the same.

Has the officer who shot Mr Brown seen repercussions?

The Justice Department in 2015 decided against prosecuting Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed the 18-year-old Mr Brown.

In doing so, prosecutors said that there was insufficient evidence available to charge Mr Wilson with a crime — and Mr Obama publicly supported the decision, noting that the US is a nation of laws and presumption of innocence.

That decision was criticised following its announcement by some legal experts, who pointed to thousands of grand jury documents that were released, saying that the documents showed prosecutors asking what some believe were soft-ball questions of Mr Wilson during the proceedings.

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