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‘It could have been me’: five years after Michael Brown, young black men in Ferguson spe

On 9 August 2014 police in Missouri killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. We asked his peers from the same neighborhood to recall that day – and discuss how they’ve moved on.

By Mariah Stewart with photographs by Whitney Curtis | The Guardian | August 9, 2019

Ricky Allen, 20

Ricky was in a green space around the corner from where he lives at the Canfield Green apartment complex, which overlooks where Michael Brown died

I was down the street playing basketball with my friends. We saw news cameras. We asked somebody what happened, and they said a cop had just killed a kid. I didn’t know him personally, but I’d seen him around a lot.

Me and my sister came down, and we saw him lying in the street. The street was taped off and the mama was crying. People were scared because of how intense it was – you know, like, people versus cops. A few police officers came down and started playing basketball with us. So that was cool.

I do feel like that could have been me. They act as if we are wild animals and not humans. Cops need to adjust to the environment they are in, or find a job that doesn’t scare them. As a black man we are even more scared now, because they can kill and get away with it. But we can’t so much as talk back without being beat up, tased, or shot.

I feel like if we could come together as a community it’d be a lot better than it is now. Like, we want to blame the cops, and want to blame law enforcement, but a lot of this stuff we do to ourselves. If we can stand as one, instead of coming together because something bad happens, when someone gets killed, when we want to scream and shout.

Gabriel Cornelius: ‘They had snipers on top of the buildings, stuff like that.’

Gabriel Cornelius: ‘They had snipers on top of the buildings, stuff like that.’ Photograph: Whitney Curtis/The Guardian

Gabriel Cornelius, 14

Gabriel was working the Earth Dance Farm booth at the Ferguson farmers’ market

I remember I was at the barber shop with my dad. I just got my hair cut. My dad was next, and he was sitting in the chair and he saw on Facebook like: “Yo, this police officer just shot a young kid and just had him sitting there for a couple of hours.” I didn’t really understand what was going on because I was so young. Everybody was getting upset.

My grandmother called my mama to let her know they out protesting and stuff like that. The next day, we ended up going out there. At first, me and my sister was all worried. Like: “Mama, don’t go out there. Something might happen.” I remember looking on top of the firehouse and I saw a guy with a black mask. They had snipers on top of buildings, stuff like that.

The farm is a nice place. I remember my first time working there, I asked chef Michael [Gallina] if I could I go to his restaurant and do a project for extra points or something like that. He said that’s fine, that’s cool, you can come up there any time you want. It’s real nice people. I like the farm.

La’Revious Woods on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 at his grandmother’s home in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo by Whitney Curtis for The Guardian)

La’Revious was helping with a yard sale at the home of his grandmother, who has lived in Ferguson for over 20 years

La’Revious ‘Fresh’ Woods, 13

We just moved to Florissant a couple years ago, after Mike Brown. I used to live down the street here in Ferguson – I lived there since I was born. It was cool before the stuff with Mike Brown started happening. After that, everything just changed. It’s not the same. Police not the same. You call them, they come real late. Say if I call them at 2.30, they’ll probably come at like 3 o’clock. They act like they don’t care.

I just threw away a sign that said: no justice, no peace. Me, my mom, my auntie, half my family went out there with signs, but nothing happened. Nobody talks about it – for real – any more. I feel bad for Mike Brown’s mom and dad because nothing really happened. The police didn’t get locked up. The city needs to have better police management and staff.

This my grandparents’ house. They support me all the time, especially with football. I’m going to go pro in football and just make my family happy about what I’m doing. They already are proud of me now, but I’m going to make them even more proud by getting rich when I get older, playing for my favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.

Joshua Donaldson: ‘It’s really peaceful in Ferguson, to be honest. It’s no rioting. It’s not hype or anything like that.’

Joshua Donaldson: ‘It’s really peaceful in Ferguson, to be honest. It’s no rioting. It’s not hype or anything like that.’ Photograph: Whitney Curtis/The Guardian

Joshua Donaldson, 17

Joshua was at the Ferguson community center, running solo basketball drills

I remember we couldn’t go to school for a couple of weeks. It started late because of the riots. When we was up at the school they talked about it a lot. Told us not to be outside and not to be throwing stuff. It was a big hype. Stuff got burned down so we couldn’t go outside. Like, most kids didn’t want to walk after school like we used to. Kids were scared, and their parents didn’t want them walking any more, basically. It’s cooled down. Everything is back together.

I’ve been in Ferguson since my sixth-grade year. You see kids outside playing, going to the parks. It’s really peaceful in Ferguson, to be honest. It’s no rioting. It’s not hype or anything like that. Yeah, you got kids that do hype stuff, but Ferguson is a good place to live. Like, you can sit on your porch and watch kids go outside, run around, actually have fun instead of being in the house all day worried about stuff. Everybody knows everybody. It’s very connected. We need to just get the community more as one. Like, doing more community-building things.

This is a really nice community center. It’s a dollar to get in if you’re a resident. If you buy a membership, it’s free to get in. It’s a lot of stuff here to do. If a kid is bored at home he can just come up here and chill with his friends.

Artez Holloway on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 at his home in Ferguson, Mo.

Artez and his family were loading up a truck and moving out of Ferguson into the neighboring town of Jennings for better school options

Artez Holloway, 14

When Mike Brown died, everybody was protesting. I was kind of scared so I just went to my room and lay down and went to sleep.

I’ve been living here nine years. When Mike Brown died I felt some type of way, ’cos I’m kind of scared of the police. Every time I would see the police I would run. Now when I see them sometimes I just walk. I feel kind of safe with the police being here, but at the same time, I really don’t. The cops can be nicer. They can play more basketball games with us. Community stuff like that.

I really try to make something positive. Like, I just got done cutting this lady grass. A good, hardworking, handsome man. Haha! If people are working and got something going for themselves, keep that going. Don’t let the negative get you. Keep a lot of people that you like. Keep them close.

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