One year ago today, the country was rocked by the death of 18-year-old Mike Brown. He was just days from heading to college when a white police officer shot and killed him.
Since then, we have endured far too many similar tragedies, and we remain a nation in turmoil. Though each tragedy has seared another hole into the cloak of denial our nation has worn that Black lives are treated with less decency, less respect, and less humanity, too much remains the same. A full year after Brown’s death, the government is still without a reliable system for tracking police use of force. Far too many police officers have gone unprosecuted.
But there is hope. The Black Lives Matter activism that followed has made it impossible to sweep these lost Black lives under the rug, and return to our former routines. These fearless activists have kept the embers of justice alive, and the country is better for it.
In Ferguson, for example, the Hands Up United coalition that was created to call for a special prosecutor started a number of educational programs for youth and adults. Those programs address food insecurity, systemic racism, and education.
The movement has certainly succeeded in shifting public opinion around conceptions of public safety, security, and the criminality of blackness. According to the Washington Post, "60 percent of Americans now affirm that the fight for equal rights is not over.”
And many states have passed measures to prevent police brutality. According to the Associated Press, in the last year "24 states have passed at least 40 new measures addressing such things as officer-worn cameras, training about racial bias, independent investigations when police use force and new limits on the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies." President Obama’s 21st Century Task Force on Policing identified problem areas in the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies. And the Department of Justice has worked to investigate several departments and high-profile cases.
This is just the beginning. We are closer to a world where there is no dispute that Black lives matter, but unarmed Black and Brown lives are still being taken frequently and with impunity. On the anniversary of Mike Brown’s tragic death, let’s take this moment to renew our commitment to creating a more just society.