On August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shoots and kills Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Protests and riots ensue in Ferguson and soon spread across the country.
There are many different accounts of the incident, including the testimonies of Wilson and of Brown's friend, Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time. Many details differ, but most accounts agree that Wilson saw Brown and Johnson walking in the street, demanded they get on the sidewalk, then stopped his police SUV in front of them in order to confront them. He and Brown had an altercation through the open window of the car, during which Wilson fired twice. Brown and Johnson tried to leave, Wilson exited his car to pursue them, and at some point Brown turned back around to face Wilson, who then fired 12 shots, six of which hit Brown.
Wilson claimed he fired in self-defense as Brown charged him, which Johnson denied. A witness claimed that Wilson warned Brown he would open fire, and that Brown responded with "Don't shoot!" before he was killed, although that was not corroborated by ballistic and DNA evidence and other witness statements.
The community immediately reacted with rage at the news of 18-year-old Brown's death. The shooting ignited long-simmering tensions between the majority-Black population of Ferguson and the local police, who were mostly white. Though public opinion was sharply divided, the protests and riots and the response by Ferguson's heavily militarized police demonstrated the extent to which the relationship between racial minorities in America and the police had frayed.
Brown's name, the phrase "Hands up, don't shoot" and the very mention of Ferguson quickly entered the lexicon of the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
In November 2014, a grand jury declined to indict Officer Wilson, and later, the Justice Department concluded that Wilson acted out of self-defense, and was justified in killing Brown. However, the same Justice Department investigation found that the Ferguson Police Department routinely violated the civil rights of its African American residents.