clock menu more-arrow no yes

Ferguson, explained in 7 sentences

A man with a skateboard walks away from tear gas fired off in Ferguson, Missour, during protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown.
A man with a skateboard walks away from tear gas fired off in Ferguson, Missour, during protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown.
Joshua Lott / Getty Images News
  1. On November 24, St. Louis County Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that a grand jury decided not to press charges against Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, on August 9.
  2. The three months between the shooting and the grand jury announcement were fraught with tension in the St. Louis suburb — characterized by nearly daily demonstrations that devolved into dramatic nighttime clashes with heavily armed police, calls for McCulloch to recuse himself from the case, and an increase in national attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
  3. The grand jury did not find probable cause to indict Wilson, but police officers are rarely ever indicted for killing people on the job.
  4. The law that governs police use of force, by design, gives officers a lot of freedom to make mistakes when making split-second decisions on when and whom to shoot, requiring them to show only that they had an "objectively reasonable belief" that their lives or the lives of others were in danger — even if that is not actually the case.
  5. Eyewitnesses who spoke publicly after the shooting said Wilson fired the fatal shots at Brown as the 18-year-old was attempting to surrender with his hands up, which would have conceivably put Wilson on the wrong side of the law.
  6. But McCulloch attempted to discredit many of these eyewitness accounts, and Wilson testified that Brown attacked him, tried to take his gun, and, rather than surrendering, actually charged at him.
  7. Since the grand jury decision, nighttime Ferguson protests have erupted into small pockets of violence — resulting in burning buildings and cars, vandalism, and looting — while larger, more organized daytime and early evening demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful in Ferguson and across the country.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.