18 pages 36 minutes read

Danez Smith

alternate names for black boys

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Historical Context: The Michael Brown Shooting

On August 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was walking home with his friend Dorian Johnson in Ferguson, Missouri, when Officer Darren Wilson stopped them in his patrol car. A brief struggle ensued; Wilson fired a total of 12 shots. Six shots hit the unarmed Brown, who died on the street. Though Wilson later alleged that Brown lunged at him, Johnson claimed Brown had his hands up in surrender. Witness accounts vary. After a grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was announced on November 24, 2014, unrest and protest erupted in Ferguson. Protesters chanted “hands up, don’t shoot,” echoing Johnson’s account of the shooting. The slogan has since been widely used in anti-police-violence activism. Organizer Montague Simmons says the slogan persists because it speaks to a pattern of unjustified violence: “Just because I’m black and male, and you may have thoughts that I am criminal or I am a threat, doesn’t make it so” (Corley, Cheryl. “Whether History Or Hype, ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Endures.” NPR Weekend Edition Saturday. August 8, 2015).

The shooting, grand jury decision, and police response to protests in Ferguson garnered nationwide attention for the Black Lives Matter movement. The organization that started as a hashtag in 2013 has now become Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Inc.