The Facts on Ferguson: What’s Happened and How You Can Help

feature image credit Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

The collective QPOC Speakeasy has responded to the Mike Brown’s killing and the events in Ferguson here. Please read & share their powerful words!

What Happened Here?

On Saturday afternoon, Mike Brown was murdered by a Ferguson police officer. He was unarmed. His death, just the latest in a dizzying list of black people killed by the police just in 2014, inspired national mourning and righteous anger. Combined with the unconscionable and pervasive media bias against black residents of Ferguson, which have employed egregious and incorrect anti-black narratives in lieu of reporting the facts, this has also produced powerful discussions like the “What Picture Would They Use?” phenomenon.

In the wake of his death, vigils and peaceful protests were organized. On the very first day of protests, police mobilized dogs, tear gas and tanks, despite the fact that protests were peaceful and only a small, unorganized group of people engaged in any looting or disruption.

Wednesday night, three days after the shooting, the police department created a retroactive curfew; although the police chief had previously indicated that there was no curfew, after darkness fell police mobilized tanks, riot gear and less-lethal weaponry and began attacking peaceful protesters and media. They used tear gas, rubber bullets and wooden pellets, which were fired directly at peaceful protesters and into the backyards of residential homes. Protesters were herded into residential neighborhoods, and while they were told to get out of the streets, police cut off the routes that would allow people to return to their homes. Rumors that a water bottle was thrown at police have not yet been confirmed. There is an image of one can of tear gas being thrown back at the police in riot gear after it was thrown at an unarmed protester. TruthOut has a summary of the events of last night, including a video and transcript.

Media were also cut off from their news vans and had to take shelter in sympathetic private homes. Two journalists, Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly, who tried to take shelter in a McDonalds’, were arrested for “trespassing.” They assert that they were never read their Miranda rights. St. Louis alderman Antonio French, who had consistently remained at the protests and documented them via social media, was arrested, although he says he was never told on what charges. Media were told to shut off their cameras, and many reported being menaced with assault rifles if they refused. Al Jazeera reporters say that they were tear gassed and that their cameras were confiscated when they escaped from the gas in what appears to be a deliberate strategy to suppress media documentation. This seems to have backfired, as that entire incident was recorded.

To be clear, the safety and rights of the residents of Ferguson and the way they were violated is the major reason for concern in this story; the suppression and violence against media is also important, but primarily in regard to the way in which it suggests police wanted freedom to attack peaceful Ferguson residents without proof or consequences.


via KSDK

The live feed from Ferguson that was broadcast last night is available here. Since then, Missouri’s governor has pulled St. Louis police from Ferguson. Obama’s statement, delivered a few hours ago, was disappointing; he chose to condemn “violence against the police” and “looting” before even mentioning the occurrence of “excessive force” and violation of First Amendment rights, despite minimal evidence of the former two items and a wealth of evidence of the latter.

UPDATE: According to KSDK, the FBI will “oversee all operations, protests and other activities in Ferguson.” Local police forces will now operate under the authority of the FBI, although this does not necessarily mean a decreased police presence.

UPDATE: New Police Commander Ron Johnson walked with the protesters on Thursday night. Georgia Representative Hank Johnson has proposed legislation aimed at demilitarizing domestic police forces.

How Is This Illegal? Let Us Count The Ways

Murder Is Illegal

It is broadly considered illegal to shoot someone with a gun and kill them. This is true even of police officers, with the exception of a few situations that are supposed to be rigidly restricted and investigated: According to the Constitution, police officers can shoot to “protect their life or the life of an innocent party,” or to prevent the escape of a suspect if the officer has probable cause to suspect that person of a violent felony.

In regard to the first guideline, the officer does not need to demonstrate that there was a threat to anyone’s life, but that it was objectively reasonable for him to believe there was. This does introduce a wide swath of gray area, but as Vox explains, “According to the St. Louis County Police Department’s account, the officer who killed Michael Brown fired one shot from inside the police car. But Brown was killed some 25 feet away, after several shots had been fired. To justify the shooting, the officer wouldn’t just need to demonstrate that he feared for his life (…) when Brown was by the car, but even after he started shooting and Brown started running away. The officer would need to establish that, right up until the last shot was fired, he felt Brown continued to pose a threat to him, whether he actually was or not.” It seems fair to say that the only way this belief would have been “reasonable” on the officer’s part is if you hold that black people and especially black men are dangerous just by virtue of being alive.

Also via Vox: In terms of investigating Brown’s death, there are supposed to be multiple lines of inquiry. Criminal investigators look into a police shooting like any other shooting and determine if the circumstances constitute “permissible homicide” or actual homicide, which constitutes a crime. There’s also supposed to be an internal department investigation to discern whether the officer violated the department’s use-of-force policy. In the case of Brown’s shooting, the FBI is also investigating whether the police violated civil rights law, which is a separate question than whether the officer’s shooting was justified. The ACLU of Missouri has also filed a lawsuit to obtain information related to the shooting.

You Have the Right to Assembly

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

“I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.” – Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill

You Have the Right to Record Police

Both citizens and journalists have the right to document and record the actions of the police. From the Verge: “…federal courts have held consistently that citizens have a First Amendment right to record the police as they perform their official duties in public. And the US Department of Justice under Obama has affirmed the court’s stances by reminding police departments that they’re not allowed to harass citizens for recording them.” It’s also illegal for the police to seize or search your phone without a warrant. The ACLU explains further.

What You Can Do to Help

Attend a #NMOS14 (National Moment of Silence 2014) vigil in your city today at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST. Spearheaded by @FeministaJones, this movement aims to memorialize and mourn those killed by police, including Mike Brown, and focus on their lives and personhood. If you attend, wear a red armband and consider bringing extras for other attendees.

Donate to a bail and legal fund for protesters arrested in Ferguson. Your money will go towards bail, legal funds, fines, and other expenses.

You can also donate to a supplies fund on the ground that will help with food, gas masks, and more:

You can also donate to Mike Brown’s family to help with their legal costs as they pursue justice for his death.

School has been canceled in Ferguson since Monday, which can lead to food insecurity for some children who may rely on school lunches to eat. A schoolteacher has partnered with the City Council of Ferguson/Florissant to work on providing food for these kids; you can donate to help their efforts here.

Generally and most importantly, especially if you are a white person, follow the lead of the black people of Ferguson and black organizers elsewhere; listen to find out what’s needed rather than making assumptions.

What You Shouldn’t Do to Help

Even in the interests of raising awareness, do not circulate images of Mike Brown’s body or of the bodies of other black people killed by police. This is against the wishes of Brown’s family and can be traumatizing to viewers of it.

Instead, circulate images of the illegal activity of police and the contact information for the Missouri governor, Ferguson mayor and Ferguson’s chief of police. Encourage people to call and remind them that the world is watching and holding them accountable for their actions.

MO Governor Jay Nixon
Phone: 573-751-3222
Twitter: @GovJayNixon

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III
Phone: 314-521-1043
email: [email protected]

Police Chief Tom Jackson
Phone: 314-522-3100 x5588
Twitter: @stlcountypd

Don’t attend or promote anything having to do with a “Day of Rage.” This movement has not been created with the input of communities of color, and the organization of an angry protest is likely to result in increased incarceration of and violence against black people and other people of color.

This post will be updated with important information as it develops.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. I’ve been feeling sick for days about this. Thanks for the in depth account and the resources for trying to help, Rachel.

  2. Maybe another thing to add: If you’re white and want to attend a vigil today, do so respectfully and without taking up tons of space (physically and verbally). As many feelings as I have about police murdering POC, it’s not about me. In my position of privilege I can’t even begin to understand the daily harassment many face from police and the constant violence disguised as protection. I do my best to remember that as I attend vigils of this sort. I spread the word so more people know about what is going on, attend, but know my place. And my place is to listen to the experiences of others and to ask what I can do to help. Not assume I know best.

    • Agreed! Also, it should go without saying, but if you attend a #NMOS14 event, don’t agitate or in any way make a scene in a way that could invite police response and endanger other people. Especially us, white people.

  3. A teacher friend of mine has organized a fundraiser to help the young students in Ferguson who depend on school lunches for a large part of their nutrition. Schools in Ferguson have been closed since Monday, meaning many students from poor families are missing their biggest (or possibly only) meal. Please help if you can.

  4. I question why a small town like Ferguson was so readily prepared with military grade weapons, tanks, tear gas, rubber bullets, full on riot gear, etc. Those fuckers were ready for a zombie apocalypse. Watching the news this morning was frightening. It looked like I was watching footage from Gaza or Baghdad. And since when do the local police have the right to shut down an entire McDonalds just to remove a couple of journalists(who were literally doing nothing at the time) or to tamper with the media’s camera equipment?

    And did anybody see the footage of that State Senator asking the police chief if she was going to get gassed again like the night before? His only response was “I hope not”. That’s it? What the fuck dude? These people are out of their depth.

    • Yeah, I saw a Newsweek article earlier about the 1033 Program, which is pretty much how police got hold of out-and-out military equipment.

      My heart’s with the folks in Ferguson right now. I don’t know what resolution to hope for, but I am hoping like hell nobody else dies.

    • Because it’s not a small town. It’s right outside of an extremely dangerous part of St. Louis that has been a problem area for a LONG time. If you live in St. Louis, you know it’s not a rosy town that’s easy to police. It’s dangerous. I know because I lived there are was scared to walk from my car to my house every night. St. Louis is a weird town because it’s g

      • Oops. Hit it too soon. Anyway, there is a HUGE income gap that presents a lot of class problems, more so than racial ones actually. There’s not black on black crime or what have you in those suburbs and in that part of the city, there is just person on person crime.
        At the end of the day, a kid is dead, my community is trashed at we are all hurting. There are a lot of details about what went down that haven’t come out yet. When they do, maybe they will change the story and maybe not but the fact remains, ferguson is not some sleepy little Missouri town. It’s a suburb that encapsulates a lot of problems that a major city with a dying lifeline presents. But it’s my home, and it’s breaking my heart to watch it go up in flames from far away.

      • For what it’s worth, though, there had been 0 homicides in Ferguson this year up until the murder of Mike Brown.

    • Missouri is a majority conservative state, with progressive citizens more situated in larger metropolitan areas. St. Louis suffered the same white flight in the 70’s-’80s as many rust belt cities have, and the resulting loss of revenue over the years has left the city struggling, with many poor people, and a largely african american population left to deal with the mess.

      Recent years of conservative leadership in the state have been very closely tied to the overall warmongering of the national Republican policy line. For instance, John Ashcroft, who was governor of MO when I was growing up there, ended up serving as the U.S. Attorney General during George Bush’s administration. He supported the war in Iraq following 9/11, and was instrumental in securing large amounts of homeland security funding for Missouri, which has allowed different levels of government law enforcement to invest in military grade weaponry and gear.

  5. Thank you for rounding up the informtatiln in a sophistocated manner. It’s hard to get a full recap of everything that’s happened without it being 140 character tweets, or everything just in buts and pieces without being fully shareable.

    I’m just devastated, and I am so worried for everyone in Ferguson, I would really really really love for them to get all the support and justice they deserve.

    Palestinians supporting the people in Ferguson through twitter is about as heartwarming as it gets…

  6. Thank you for posting this, I’ve shared it with many of my friends who are trying to figure out what exactly has been going on and they’ve found it hugely helpful. This whole situation just makes me extremely anxious and upset and I shudder to think about what might occur next. Here’s hoping the people of Ferguson stay safe and stay strong. Solidarity from Philadelphia.

  7. Thank you for this article. I am so ashamed at the horrible things happening this country, but at the same time proud of the bravery and resiliancy of those who continue to stand up and fight for what’s right in the face of police brutality and other state violence. My thoughts are with the families in Ferguson.

  8. From an article on how to be a good ally in general, here’s another suggestion I liked: “Diversify your media. Be intentional about looking for and paying close attention to diverse voices of color on the tv, on the internet and on the radio to help shape your awareness, understanding and thinking about political, economic and social issues. Check out Colorlines, The Root or This Week in Blackness to get started.” Plus the AS QPOC speakeasy. I also found the Yo Is This Racist tumblr and podcast to be thought-provoking and helpful.

  9. The police in Ferguson sicken me.
    Killing an innocent teen and then gassing the media from reporting…

    Seriously fucked up.

  10. Anyone have another source for where the family asks people not to share images of his body? Asking so I can share a few sources with someone who happened to share images in the interest of awareness.

  11. As someone overseas, I don’t have all of the media exposure to events such as this. At times this is a good thing as I don’t get all of the bullshit, but I also often don’t understand what is actually going on.
    Thanks for simplifying things, and letting us know what’s going on.

  12. Rachel, I very much appreciate your breakdown on considerations for police use of force. I think the media on the whole has neglected this and has been making wild conjectures as to how police could shoot an unarmed man, whereas you nailed what factors a police officer will consider. Mainly these factors come from case law–Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor are the main two if you’d like to make them available to readers in the future.

    I get dismayed, however, when you take the objective reasonableness standard to mean that because Brown was 25 feet away and several shots had already been fired, Officer Wilson was inherently threatened by Brown’s race and mere existence. There are misconceptions, probably because of what we see on television and in the movies, about how far away a threat must be to no longer be considered one, and it often does take multiple bullets to disable a true threat. In fact, there are recorded instances of serious harm being done to officers and federal agents by suspects who had already been mortally wounded by gun shots.

    Whether the facts show that Officer Wilson was acting reasonably and Michael Brown was rightly or wrongly perceived as a threat will only be revealed by extensive investigation and interviewing. Until then, it’s irresponsible for us to make assumptions.

  13. Love this article – I’m NOT shutting up about Ferguson because it’s painfully representative of the entire US. If I manage to make people stop and think, then hey, that’s a bit of progress.

    I wanted to ask one favor – I frequently share your articles on social media sites, and I wondered if you could please add a button to share articles on Google +, too.

    Thanks to the authors – I’m another white queer person who desperately wants to be of support – I SEE the problems, but don’t want to be presumptuous in trying to help. I want to solidly support people of color in actions and changes they want, not to attempt to snottily impose change from outside. I soak up any opportunity to learn and to be a better ally. THANK YOU!

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