Photos From the Heart of the Ferguson Protests

The events sparked by the killing of young Michael Brown gave rise to a new civil rights movement that’s still growing

The makeshift memorial to Michael Brown on Canfield Drive grew until it was removed by his father on May 20, on what would have been his son’s 19th birthday. “It’s time for the city to heal,” he said. Jon Lowenstein
Community members express solidarity while entering the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis—where Michael Brown was laid to rest. Jon Lowenstein
Protesters and police clashed during August demonstrations against the killing of Michael Brown. Jon Lowenstein
Members of the community wait for the civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton to visit Flood Christian Church about three miles from Ferguson. Jon Lowenstein
A protester discusses the situation in Ferguson with a member of the media. Jon Lowenstein
At an interfaith demonstration in Clayton, Missouri, a woman holds a young boy. Jon Lowenstein
The remnants of a police car that was burned during the violent protests that followed the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Jon Lowenstein
Ray Albers, a veteran of the St. Ann, Missouri, police, resigned after video captured him raising his assault rifle and threatening to kill unarmed protesters in Ferguson. Jon Lowenstein
In Ferguson, Missouri, a protester holds a rose during an August demonstration on W. Florissant Avenue, which intersects with Canfield Drive—the street where Michael Brown was killed. Jon Lowenstein
Local artist Joseph Albanese painted this mural in St. Louis the day before Michael Brown’s funeral. “It was a place where people were coming together to remember,” Lowenstein says. Jon Lowenstein
Ten days after Brown’s death, police in St. Louis killed Kajieme “Chris” Powell, a mentally disabled 25-year-old who was suspected of stealing doughnuts from a convenience store. Cellphone video of the shooting inspired residents, like this woman, to join the growing protests. Jon Lowenstein
Demonstrators gathered on W. Florissant Avenue the weekend before the grand jury’s decision was announced. When Officer Darren Wilson was not charged, protests again turned violent. Jon Lowenstein

On a mild evening last November, hundreds of protesters gathered at the intersection of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive in the heart of Ferguson, Missouri. It had been 104 days since the shooting of Michael Brown; soon, a grand jury would decide whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death. The mood was one of rage but also of hope. There was music and dancing. A pair of young people climbed atop a generator and told the crowd to make its voice heard. Nearby, an American flag waved. “People believed that the country was finally paying attention to what was happening in Ferguson,” recalls the photographer Jon Lowenstein, who was in the crowd that evening and spent several months documenting the turmoil with his iPhone.

The demonstrations that followed Brown’s killing—and which were sparked anew when the grand jury declined to indict Wilson—were not the first in the 21st century triggered by the killing of a young black man. But Ferguson represented something new: a sweeping call to action that, thanks in part to the tactics of the police determined to quash it, blossomed into a genuine cultural movement, with leaders like the 29-year-old former Minneapolis school administrator DeRay Mckesson and placard-ready slogans like “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

In March, a Justice Department investigation into police and judicial practices in Ferguson found evidence of systemic “intentional discrimination.” The vast majority of unjustified arrests by Ferguson police officers involved African-Americans, as did instances of the unreasonable use of force. “It is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg,” then-Attorney General Eric Holder said upon the report’s release.

A range of Ferguson officials were replaced, from the police chief to the city manager to the municipal judge. In the spring, a record number of voters elected two new black candidates to the city council.

The momentum generated last summer to counteract police brutality has grown. One need only look to President Obama’s call for $75 million to purchase body cameras for police departments across the country. Or the outcry over the killings of unarmed black men and women in places like New York, South Carolina and Cleveland. Or—not least—the reaction to the killing of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died in police custody in April. Six cops have been indicted for their role in Gray’s death. For many, hope has returned. “It’s all connected,” says Lowenstein. “Ferguson proved that people could actually hold those in power accountable.”

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