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The name Mike Brown, Jr. holds significant meaning to many. To his family and friends, he was “Mike Mike,” a kind young man who liked video games, music and hanging out with his friends. He had just graduated from high school and was on a path to trade college. To them, his name represents the promise of a life just beginning. To the rest of us, his name became a battle cry, a signal to the city of Ferguson, the nation and the world that white supremacy and racialized terror were not memories from darker days, they are pulsing through this country, present in the real-life experiences of people of color every single day.
It was five years ago today that a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed the unarmed teenager, catapulting his name and the image of his dead body lying on the hot asphalt into international news cycles. Mike Brown’s unjust killing sparked an uprising that codified the Movement for Black Lives, and galvanized the largest push for racial justice since the civil rights era.
The wounds of that time still hurt and may never heal. But our community has never stopped saying Mike Brown’s name. When the cameras left five years ago, we continued to organize to drive change in our communities. In St. Louis, voters unseated the 30-year Democratic incumbent that did not bring charges against officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. Our work, along with that of others who stood in solidarity with us and organized in their own communities, shifted the national consciousness around anti-black racism; creating an opportunity to address the tole white supremacy has taken on the humanity of this nation.
Our current political reality is indeed a backswing from the change ushered in by the Obama administration and the shifts in cultural awareness that came post-Ferguson. But more than that this moment is the result of our nation’s original sins, white supremacy, and state violence. As we honor Mike Brown, Jr. today and reflect on the Uprising, it’s critical that we commit to centering those core issues in the political debates unfolding now and during the 2020 election.
More than ever, our people need and deserve to see bold action addressing police and state violence, especially from Democrats on the campaign trail, as we head into our next presidential election—a promise they have lived on for years with no real movement toward actual change.
State violence is not limited to the police killing of our people. It takes many forms: the systemic underinvestment in our communities, the caging of our people—including Ferguson activists like Josh Williams, predatory state and corporate practices targeting our neighborhoods, government policies that result in the poisoning of our water and the theft of our land, failing schools that criminalize rather than educate our children, economic practices that extract our labor, and wars on our trans and queer family that deny them their humanity.
We need our leaders and those seeking office to have these conversations regularly and in the light, not in dark corners of halls of power because they’re afraid to be overheard. A more robust national conversation about white supremacy and the ongoing violence against Black and Brown communities is a necessary step toward interrupting that violence. We cannot fix what we cannot talk about honestly.
The Movement for Black Lives, including the Electoral Justice Project, demands reparations for past and continuing harms. The government, responsible corporations, and other institutions that have profited off of the harm they have inflicted on Black people—from colonialism to slavery through housing redlining, mass incarceration, and surveillance—must repair the harm done.
Democratic candidates can show bold leadership by making police violence and reparations core campaign issues. Black voters are a key demographic for Democratic candidates in 2020, especially in swing states like Michigan, Florida, and Georgia. Black voters have mobilized for candidates that are willing to address the issues important to our communities – like police violence. These candidates have ridden the wave of promises for decades to get our vote, but fail when it comes to taking meaningful action. This time, the Black vote cannot be taken for granted, nor should Black people be used as pawns for political gain.
Everything we’ve done these past five years has been in honor of Mike Brown, Jr., and the countless others whose lives were cut short simply because they lived them in Black bodies. Today, as we remember Mike Brown and reflect on the Uprising, a moment that changed the history of this country, let us all commit to not forgetting that we got to this point because of hatred, racism, and violence, but that we have an opportunity in 2020 to begin down a different path; one where we could create a society that views us all as worthy of safety, dignity, and respect.
Rest in Power Mike Brown, Jr.
To all of those who came and stood with us in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, and who sent their support and resources, thank you so much.