2014: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

The town of Ferguson, Missouri, was put on the map by the police killing of recent high school graduate Michael Brown in 2014. Like the majority of incidents of police killing black people, no charges were laid against the shooter. Investigators agreed with the police officer that he was defending himself against Brown. Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson erupted and lasted for months. Protesters chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” because that is what Brown said to the officer before he was killed.

2015 Federal Investigation

In 2015, the Justice Department completed and released a report on the incident. The investigation found the police officer not guilty and provided an assessment of the Ferguson police department and legal system. The findings were not good. They showed that the town’s law enforcement and courts were deeply racist–and excessively focused on arresting and fining black people. Ultimately, the report stated that, while the police officer did not commit a crime in killing Brown, he was part of a corrupt and racist police force. The Ferguson police chief quit after the report was published.

2017 Travel Advisory: Avoid Missouri If You Are Black

In 2017, the NAACP issued this travel advisory for the state of Missouri:

“…African American travelers, visitors and Missourians…pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the state given the series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently…”

The NAACP stated that black people are 75 percent more apt (than white people) to be targeted by Missouri police for traffic stops, searches, and more. Avoiding Missouri is not an option when you live there.

Justice in 2019

A Kansas City police officer shot and killed Cameron Lamb, a black man who was backing his truck into his own garage, in 2019. The officer entered Lamb’s property without a warrant based on suspicion of a traffic incident, claimed Lamb was holding a gun, which he was not, and shot and killed him. The officer was indicted, charged, and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and recklessly causing the death of Lamb. 

The prevalence of police violence in cities and towns across Missouri is based on centuries of racism and white supremacy. Missourians will need police enforcement leadership to change, policing policies to change, training for non-violent solutions to be added, and many other reforms before Missouri will be safe for all of its citizens.

What You Can Do

When you’re around police officers, it always makes sense to be extra careful in Missouri. Often that is not enough to avoid interactions with police. Certainly, not all police officers in Missouri are bad actors, but enough are for the NAACP to issue a travel advisory for the state. If you’ve been the victim of police brutality, you can defend yourself in the courts, with help. Going against the police force takes legal expertise and courage.