STRATEGIC LITIGATION

Michael Brown Case Urges Justice Reform

United StatesRacial Justice

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Black Lives Matter Sprung From Michael Brown’s Killing, But the Work To Repair a Broken System is Far From Over

On August 9, 2014, unarmed African American 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. After an altercation near Wilson’s police car that resulted in Wilson firing two shots, Michael fled, with Wilson pursuing on foot. After Michael stopped and faced Wilson, he fired again, hitting Michael six times. As people from the neighborhood streamed out to see what had happened, Michael’s body lay on the Ferguson street for hours.

The next day, fierce protests erupted in the St. Louis suburb, as candlelight vigils for Michael turned into weeks of violent clashes between protestors and almost all-white police force with a long history of mistreatment and unlawful arrests of Black people. The demonstrations were reignited in October 2014 when a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson. In 2015, a Justice Department report cleared Wilson once more. In July 2020, St. Louis’ top prosecutor, who had reopened the case, came to the same conclusion: There would be no charges against Wilson.

In the aftermath of Brown’s killing, both Wilson and the Ferguson police chief resigned, and the Black Lives Matter movement was born, creating an ongoing nationwide sweep of activism and awareness driven by Michael’s killing and the deaths of thousands of Black Americans at the hands of police. But the underlying system—and the U.S. government’s lack of resolve to protect its citizens and prosecute those responsible for crimes against them—remains unchanged.

Why is This a Key Case?

Despite the emergence of movements such as Black Lives Matter, impunity for police violence in the United States, especially against Black people, continues almost unabated. By using international human rights standards to critique U.S. law and the Justice Department, this case— along with the extremely similar case of Rekia Boyd, which RFK Human Rights is also pursuing—is following an innovative, potentially extremely powerful route to reform.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting Michael’s Case?

In 2015, the organization filed a petition on behalf of Michael’s family before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, detailing the systemic failures of the U.S. government to prevent Michael’s death and its subsequent failure to effectively investigate and prosecute the officer responsible for his death.

What is the Status of the Case?

A revised petition was completed in partnership with Howard Law School Thurgood Marshall Center Clinic in May 2019 and filed in conjunction with an update on the Rekia Boyd case.

Case Partner

Howard Law School Thurgood Marshall Center Clinic

Our collaboration filed a petition before the IACHR on behalf of the family of Michael Brown, a Black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

thurgoodmarshallcenter.howard.edu