In cities across the US, dozens of bodies have been lying in the middle of streets, their outlines sketched around them in chalk.
The dramatic images resemble a crime scene — but despite appearances, the bodies on the ground hadn’t been shot. Instead, they were protesting the killing of one unarmed teenager who did lose his life to gunfire: that of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was only days away from starting college when he died on 9 August.
As Mamamia previously reported, African-American teenager Brown was stopped in a Ferguson, Missouri street on by a white police officer that fateful day.
Accounts differ as to what happened next.
Police say he attempted to get in the police car and steal a gun before being fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson; meanwhile, multiple eyewitnesses say Wilson grabbed the teenager by the neck and tried to force him into the police car before shooting him. Brown had his hands held over his head at the time, those eyewitnesses say.
Today, a grand jury with nine white and three black members cleared police officer Wilson of responsibility for the shooting, saying no charges would be laid.
The St Louis County prosecutor says witnesses to the shooting made inconsistent statements, the ABC reports.
“They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against officer Wilson and returned a no true bill on each of the five indictments,” he said. “They discussed and debated the evidence among themselves before arriving at their collective decision. After their exhaustive review of the evidence the grand jury deliberated over two days, making their final decision.
“They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against officer Wilson.”
The controversial decision follows weeks of tensions in Ferguson, with Salon reporting that over 50 organisations banded together in a “Don’t Shoot Coalition”, and CNN reporting that more than 120 vigils and gatherings – as well as the “die-in protests” involving chalk outlines as described above — have taken place across the country.
Following the verdict today, Americans observed four and-a-half minutes before protesting the decision, marking the four and-a-half hours that the 18-year-old’s body lay on the street after the fatal shooting.
President Obama gave a statement on the verdict, urging protesters to obey the law but acknowledging a deep distrust of the law in some communities.
“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law,” he said.
‘And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.
“There are Americans who agree with it and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction.
“But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”
The family released a statement saying they are “profoundly disappointed” by the grand jury’s finding, the ABC reports.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” they said in a statement. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”
Protests started soon after the fatal August shooting, with people gathering at the spot where Brown died and chanting: “Killer cops have got to go”. Once the protests were underway, more than 100 police officers were called to the scen, a petrol station was set on fire, and tear gas was used on the crowd, the ABC reports.
The heavy-handed reaction by law enforcement and the refusal of people on the street to go home soon went digital, igniting again a long running debate on racial profiling of African-Americans by police.
Grand jury verdicts for criminal charges are often used in the United States when there are two widely varying accounts of events, as is in the case of Michael Brown.
The verdict is expected to reignite these tensions and worsen street protests.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Michael Brown.