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What were the 2014 Ferguson protests about?

The Ferguson, Missouri, protests began with the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. Brown, who was college-bound and had no criminal record, was unarmed, although local police accused him of robbing a convenience store moments before the shooting.

Brown’s killing and the subsequent events in Ferguson became a national controversy touching on much larger national issues of race, justice, and police violence.

The shooting almost immediately triggered protests in the St. Louis suburb, as demonstrators took to the streets to speak out against what many saw as yet another example of police brutality against young black men, for which Ferguson has a troubling record.

The situation subsequently escalated and drew national attention when police reacted to protesters, even those acting peacefully, with military-grade equipment, such as armored vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons.

One of major demands of protesters was to get prosecutors to put Wilson on trial for the Brown shooting. But a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson after three months of deliberations — in what many saw as a deeply flawed, biased investigation led by local officials with close ties to law enforcement.

The investigation into the shooting, inherently secretive grand jury proceedings, and subsequent reactions by local officials further worsened ties between local residents and their government, which was controlled by mostly white politicians despite Ferguson’s majority black population.

The events in Ferguson captured national attention because, in many ways, they’re indicative of the racial disparities many Americans, particularly minorities, see in the criminal justice system on a daily basis. While the specifics of the Brown shooting involve just one teen and one police officer in a small St. Louis suburb, the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death replicate a fear commonly held by many parents — that black lives matter less, particularly in the face of increasingly heavily armed police who have tremendous legal freedom in whether they can shoot a suspect they merely perceive as dangerous.