I took this picture last week at the spot where Michael Brown died—a memorial of flowers, candles, and mostly toys. The patch of asphalt was dug up and replaced because it was stained with blood. A member of Cincinnati Copwatch was guarding the monument because of the people (including police, he said) who try to damage it as they drive by. That street is so ordinary and could be anywhere. The events of a year ago are not clear or clean. Yet what happened there helped set in motion a reckoning that has not gone quiet and must not, so help us.
In the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has turned its attention to other names: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Malissa Williams, Jonathan Sanders, Sandra Bland. At rallies and prayer services, one hears these names and more recited as a litany, a communion of martyrs. In many of those cases, the wrongdoing was clearer and cleaner than in Ferguson. The asphyxiation of Eric Garner was caught on video. The shooting of Walter Scott was caught on video. The tasering and arrest of Sandra plan was caught on video. Police officers have been caught in the act of false testimony. Protesters have demanded real accountability, a system in which mass incarceration and racial profiling can't go by the name of criminal justice.
The clearest and cleanest cases, though, aren't the ones that have done the most to spark this movement. It has been most of all the cases of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, where the facts are contested and the cameras weren't recording, that people have rallied around, that have stirred the most vital, viral outrage. Maybe it's because people identify with the feeling of being invisible, with there being no easy answers, with a victim who perhaps wasn't solely a victim but who fought back.
When the story is contested, who is used to being believed, and who is used to being ignored? When the situation is messy, who is most likely to come out of it okay? In this memorial on the street, I keep looking at the orange bear, behind the plastic truck, that looks like it is crying out. Is it in despair? Or in prophecy?
The anniversary of Brown's death included a horrible shooting, and impolite protest, and police in military hardware, and a state of emergency. The event is not ready to go down into history as a domesticated memory, just as this memorial remains in the way, in the middle of the street, at once vandalism and vandalized.