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Darren Sealsvia Instagram

Ferguson activist Darren Seals found dead in burning vehicle

The prominent Ferguson campaigner’s body was found on Tuesday

On September 6, 2016 at 1:50 am, St Louis County Police responded to a call about a burning vehicle. Darren Seals would be found inside, along with a fatal gunshot wound. The activist was only 29, and already a prominent and influential voice in Ferguson, Missouri.

Seals’ voice and presence in the community rose after the murder of Michael Brown by police in 2014. He was famously pictured holding Brown’s mother on the night the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of her son. In a follow-up interview with MTV News in November 2014, Seals spoke passionately about Ferguson and the lack of indictment for police officer Wilson. “For Mike Brown’s mother to be right there in my arms crying – she literally cried in my arms – it was like I felt her soul crying,” he said. “It’s a different type of crying. I’ve seen people crying, but she was really hurt. And it hurt me. It hurt all of us.”

Contrary to popular belief, Seals was not a member of Black Lives Matter, and believed that the organisation was profiting globally from the pain of locals in Ferguson. “Black death is a business,” he declared in a Facebook post earlier this year. “People see this as an opportunity to not only build a name but make bank at the expense of the lives of people just like me.”

Instead, Seals co-founded an organisation called Hands Up United – a collective of “politically engaged minds” fighting for the liberation of oppressed “black, brown and poor” people through “education, art, civil disobedience, advocacy and agriculture”. He also worked on another initiative, called Polls Ova Police, which aimed to change the power dynamics of Ferguson’s local government through voting.  

On Tuesday evening this week, Seals was shot and placed in a car that was then set on fire. Police are investigating his death as a homicide, though there have been no arrests at the time of writing.

The news has been met with grief and disappointment. It has also sparked suspicions, as the activist tweeted about an encounter with the police force back in July. He claimed that ten police officers had pulled him over while he was with his 14-year-old brother, pointed a gun at him, and told him to “choose his enemies wisely”. 

This is also the second report of a young black male associated with the Ferguson protests being found dead and burned in a car. The first was DeAndre Joshua, who was only 20 years old when he was killed during the November 2014 protests of police officer Darren Wilson’s non-indictment. His body was found next to the Canfield Green Apartments, close to where Michael Brown was murdered.

Seals is another fatality in the war on black lives in the United States. His contribution to fighting for human rights will never be forgotten. In an interview with MTV last year, he was hopeful and optimistic about the work that he had done in Ferguson. “I don’t recall anyone having a longer protest, a more productive protest, a more creative protest than what we did,” he remembered. “I don’t think people will ever really appreciate what we did until years from now. We really did the best we could.”   

And this is true. Despite the damage done in Ferguson after the protests, there have been some significant changes. In May last year, the Missouri legislature passed a bill that capped the amount of revenue that municipalities can collect from traffic violations. Before that point, authorities had abused this policy by targeting predominately black residents; leaving them with large fines for minor infractions they may never have committed.

This amendment was important because, essentially, the protests, the death of Michael Brown, and the police brutality are all symptoms of a justice system that preys on poor black people in the United States. Had the protests not occurred and spawned a national conversation, this community-pushed reform of legislation would have never occurred. Darren Seals was a major part of that. It may be too much to hope that his murderers will be brought to justice, but we can at least hope that his death will not be in vain.