By now the image of 18-year-old Michael Brown’s dead body lying in a Ferguson street for four hours under the summer sun is well known, if no easier to stomach. Invoking the American history of lynching, The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb writes, “It had the effect of reminding that crowd of spontaneous mourners of their own refuted humanity. A single death can be understood as a collective threat. The media didn’t whip up these concerns among the black population; history did that.”
But what happened between police and mourners, including Brown’s mother, in the hours that followed is as useful in understanding the country-rattling protests that came next. Before the war imagery, there was blatant disrespect from those in charge.
According to a new Mother Jones report about the night of August 9, after officer Darren Wilson opened fire on the unarmed teen, a makeshift memorial for Brown was repeatedly desecrated. “An officer on the street let the dog he was controlling urinate on the memorial site,” reports Mark Follman.
The incident was related to me separately by three state and local officials who worked with the community in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. One confirmed that he interviewed an eyewitness, a young woman, and pressed her on what exactly she saw. “She said that the officer just let the dog pee on it,” that official told me. “She was very distraught about it.”
But there was more, as documented in the photo above by local alderman Antonio French at the time:
Missouri state Rep. Sharon Pace, whose district includes the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, told me she went to the scene that afternoon to comfort the parents, who were blocked by police from approaching their son’s body. Pace purchased some tea lights for the family, and around 7 p.m. she joined Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, and others as they placed the candles and sprinkled flowers on the ground where Brown had died. “They spelled out his initials with rose petals over the bloodstains,” Pace recalled.
By then, police had prohibited all vehicles from entering Canfield Drive except for their own. Soon the candles and flowers had been smashed, after police drove over them.
What occurred next, over days and weeks, cannot come as a surprise.