Hands Up. Don't Shoot.
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
There are days when something happens, suddenly, unexpectedly, and cuts to your core. August 9, 2014 was one of those days.
An eighteen-year-old black teen, Micheal Brown, was shot by a police officer, Darren Wilson, in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. His body was left in the street for hours.
Micheal Brown was not the first police violence casualty that year, nor was he the last. But his death pierced the veil I’d so comfortably worn up until that point.
Looking back I think the streaming footage shot by bystanders, of mourning neighbors gathering to express their sorrow, their anger, their outrage at yet another senseless death of a promising young man at the hands of the police, unedited and totally raw is what grabbed me by the throat and shook me.
The police response to that community mourning clarified for me the danger of simply existing as a black person in this country.
Though coverage of the shooting in the media didn’t begin until several days later, I had various live streams playing on my computer beginning shortly after the shooting. I watched Micheal Brown’s neighbors take to the streets to mourn. I saw them gathered to pay their respects to a young life extinguished, to question why it had happened, to untangle the sequence of events that led to his death.
The police met them with military vehicles and riot gear.
The mourners responded with actions disguised as obedience.
When the police told them to move along hoping the crowd would disperse, they did not. The police escalated the situation, told the mourners they were loitering, and must keep moving. They seemed to believe the implicit threat of loitering charges and fines would inspire Micheal Brown’s neighbors to give up their communal grieving.
Instead, the mourners took the police directly at their word and began to walk, with their hands raised in a powerful symbolic gesture.. But instead of walking away, they began to circle the block around Micheal Brown's body, arms raised, and chanting “Hands up, Don’t Shoot,” transforming what had been a simple gathering of neighbors into a multilayered nonviolent action and religious procession of sorts.
I will never shake the image of an elderly black woman, frail by any definition, clad in a pale blue mumu, arms shaking from the effort of holding them aloft, shuffling along the sidewalk while police in riot gear watched.
In the following days, opposition to the police actions, their overzealous used of force and tactics to control the crowd, their refusal to name Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Micheal Brown, the way they closed ranks into an “us vs. them” mentality, as opposed to the Ferguson police mission of “protect life and property”, grew.
Larger protests and marches formed and gained traction in the media. It was yet another senseless death, in an unending string of senseless deaths that became catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
When I look back and try to understand what it was about this spontaneous expression and outpouring of grief and how it manifested in the face of a massive show of military might that opened my eyes, I can’t help but return to the strength and courage of a grandmother in a mumu, paying her respects despite obvious ominous threats, a stark image of power and suppression failing in the face of a community’s determination to grieve for another young man lost.
She broke my heart open. She made me see.
Nonviolence Methods employed:
 No. 34: Vigils.
 No. 20: Prayer and Worship, No. 21: Delivering symbolic objects, and No. 167: Pray-in
 No. 136: Disguised disobedience
 No. 133: Reluctant and slow compliance, No: 137: Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse, and No. 166. Mill-in
 No. 40: Religious processions
Timeline of events around Micheal Brown's death: