Puzzling number of men tied to Ferguson protests have died



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FERGUSON, Mo. — Two young men were found dead inside torched cars. Three others died of apparent suicides. Another collapsed on a bus, his death ruled an overdose.

Six deaths, all involving men with connections to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, drew attention on social media and speculation in the activist community that something sinister was at play.

Police say there is no evidence the deaths have anything to do with the protests stemming from a white police officer’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and that only two were homicides with no known link to the protests.

But some activists say their concerns about a possible connection arise out of a culture of fear that persists in Ferguson 4 ½ years after Brown’s death, citing threats — mostly anonymous — that protest leaders continue to receive.

The Rev. Darryl Gray said he found a box inside his car. When the bomb squad arrived, no explosives were found but a 6-foot (1.8-meter) python was inside.

“Everybody is on pins and needles,” Gray said of his fellow activists.

No arrests have been made in the two homicides. St. Louis County police spokesman Shawn McGuire said witnesses have simply refused to come forward, leaving detectives with no answers for why the men were targeted.

“We don’t believe either one was connected to each other,” McGuire said, but adding, “It’s tough to come up with a motive without a suspect.”

Ferguson erupted in protests in August 2014 after officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown during a street confrontation. Brown was unarmed, but Wilson said he fired in self-defense when the black teenager came at him menacingly.

A grand jury declined to charge Wilson in November 2014, prompting one of the most violent nights of demonstrations, and one of the first activist deaths.

Deandre Joshua’s body was found inside a burned car blocks from the protest. The 20-year-old was shot in the head before the car was torched.

Darren Seals, shown on video comforting Brown’s mother that same night, met an almost identical fate two years later. The 29-year-old’s bullet-riddled body was found inside a burning car in September 2016.

Four others also died, three of them ruled suicides.

— MarShawn McCarrel of Columbus, Ohio, shot himself in February 2016 outside the front door of the Ohio Statehouse, police said. He had been active in Ferguson.

— Edward Crawford Jr., 27, fatally shot himself in May 2017 after telling acquaintances he had been distraught over personal issues, police said. A photo of Crawford firing a tear gas canister back at police during a Ferguson protest was part of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage.

— In October, 24-year-old Danye Jones was found hanging from a tree in the yard of his north St. Louis County home. His mother, Melissa McKinnies, was active in Ferguson and posted on Facebook after her son’s death, “They lynched my baby.” But the death was ruled a suicide.

— Bassem Masri, a 31-year-old Palestinian American who frequently livestreamed video of Ferguson demonstrations, was found unresponsive on a bus in November and couldn’t be revived. Toxicology results released in February showed he died of an overdose of fentanyl.

The Ferguson protests added momentum to the national Black Lives Matter movement, but they also generated resentment from people angered by TV footage of protesters hurling rocks and insults at police. Amid lingering anger, activists and observers say that while they see no clear connection between the deaths and the protests, they can’t help but wonder about the thoroughness of the investigations.

“These protesters and their deaths may not be a high priority for (police) since there is this antagonistic relationship,” Washington University sociologist Odis Johnson said. “I think there is a need for them to have a greater sense of urgency.”

Activists say that in the years since the protests, they have been targeted in dangerous ways.

“Something is happening,” said Cori Bush, a frequent leader of the Ferguson protests. “I’ve been vocal about the things that I’ve experienced and still experience — the harassment, the intimidation, the death threats, the death attempts.”

Bush said her car has been run off the road, her home has been vandalized, and in 2014 someone shot a bullet into her car, narrowly missing her daughter, who was 13 at the time.

She suspects white supremacists or police sympathizers. Living under constant threat is exhausting, she said, but she won’t give in.

“They shut us up and they win,” Bush said.

It’s unclear if residual stress from the protests or harassment contributed to the suicides, but Johnson said many activists feel a sense of hopelessness.

“This has to have a big impact on their mental health,” Johnson said. “For many, law enforcement is not a recourse. Many times law enforcement is not on their side.”

Experts say the deaths also are indicative of a concern at the core of the protests — the underlying difficulty of life for young people of color. Five of the men who died were blacks in their 20s.

Black St. Louis County residents are three times more likely than whites to be poor, often meaning they lack adequate health insurance that could allow them to better address not only physical ailments but mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

They also tend to live in areas with higher crime rates. The 2010 U.S. census showed that while people who live in wealthy and mostly white western St. Louis County can expect to live well into their 80s, life expectancy in parts of mostly black north St. Louis County reaches only into the 60s. Life expectancy in Kinloch, a few miles from Ferguson, is 56.

Forty-five of the county’s 60 homicide victims last year were black in a county where less than a quarter of the population is black, according to police statistics.

“Here in St. Louis, unfortunately, we have allowed the culture of crime and violence to morph into dimensions that anybody’s at risk any day, any time,” said James Clark of the nonprofit Better Family Life.


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12 Comments

  1. PSC says

    Puzzling Number Of Men Tied To Ferguson Protests Have Died:
    These are heartwrenching questions that must be asked and answered…
    Because they live in ‘dangerous’ high crime and/or lower income and services neighborhoods?
    Maybe because some of them were criminals and had a higher risk of death?
    (Seriously; did anyone correlate previous criminal history with those numbers?)
    Has the number of those living at or below the ‘poverty level’ increased?
    Whatever the cause it is a very sad commentary on how needed reforms have NOT been implemented.

    1. Laura McKenzie says

      Decent, law-abiding citizens don’t get involved in riots. There are other channels – better, safer, law-abiding.

  2. lisalles says

    who would want to kill these people?

  3. Grammy6pak says

    Maybe the organizers of that protest are afraidthat the truth will come out! There were bus loads of people who were being dropped off pretty apparent that there were big money backers!!

  4. ADDISON says

    Give me a break? It doesn’t bother you that each one of the deaths appear to have been carried out in a manner in which they either burned all forensics or made them appear to be suicides. Check your history in this country when police have been found to have killed people they deem worthless and you will find similarities. We will have to wait for 2020 for a real investigation — until we have a functioning Justice Department again. I would bet everything I own THEY did it.

    1. don walker says

      You are delusional. Forensics can and do work with even burnt bodies and objects. Arson investigators are trained on how to establish the cause, origin and dynamics of fires. Unless you have more experience than I do, or know some who can define when and where police (in the past two decades) have killed people whom they deemed worthless, keep your racist, stupid opinions to yourself.

  5. RRS says

    Paranoia runs deep ,into your life it will creep …….

  6. LionelMandrake says

    Why is it puzzling? Live a thug life, die a thug death. Really. What a stupid article.

  7. Freda Lavey says

    Violent protests are made by violent people and violent people die young.

    1. Rush says

      Truth

  8. Max says

    Give me a break, these so called victory are criminals, living a high risk lifestyle and activists are surprised when they die a violent death? This is the same dishonest narrative they tried using to see trigger the Ferguson riots to begin with. Blame some non existent plot by the police department instead of holding criminals (which Brown was) responsible for their actions.

    1. Max says

      Should say “so called victims”. Autocorrect again sorry.

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