On August 9 2014, 18-year old Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. A year on, and yet more black Americans have died at the hands of the country’s heavily armed police force.
Things are a long way from perfect., but the uprising in Ferguson in reaction to Brown’s death has sparked a global conversation and a new wave of activism that’s fighting for racial equality and against police brutality. St Louis photographer Melissa Spitz has been documenting her home city since November 2014 and engaging with protesters who’ve spent 365 days on the streets of America campaigning for justice.
"As a local and a person who grew up in St. Louis County, the signs of institutionalized racism were prevalent," says Spitz. "I witnessed the police conducting unnecessary searches of friends and was even asked, “What are you doing with them?” while riding in cars with people of colour. Fearing the police is normal in St. Louis, even as a white woman. The media’s portrayal of Ferguson and of people of colour in the United States over the past year has been predominantly negative. My own community and the country at large are denying its history while simultaneously shaming the individuals affected by it. I felt the need as a documentarian to investigate a place that was in close physical proximity to me, but one that I had been cautioned to never experience."
Spitz spent time with 22-year old activist Sunny Shen Maat, who told her how she believes that the death of Brown and other black Americans have left the nation’s patience with the police in thin reserve.
"Since the death of Michael Brown, who became the paramount picture of police brutality, a surge of awareness in Ferguson and around the world has been created," says Sunny Shen Maat. "An awareness that is exposing the incessantly broken justice system of America. There is a heightened sense of unity among those who spent tireless months passionately protesting.
"Yet, a year later that have been countless similar tragedies of unarmed black men in St. Louis and on the soil of America. If anything has truly changed, it is the level of tolerance and patience the people have left for police brutality and the system that safeguards it. There’s a great chance that the death of Michael Brown and others who shared a similar fate can become catalysts for generations of tomorrow. There will be a convening at the doorsteps of America’s capital and the people will demand justice."