To emphasize the artistic aspects of the uprising against police and white supremacy that has spread around the country from Minneapolis, we present a mural recording some of the names of the dead, which appeared immediately after the murder of George Floyd. Painted on the side of a derelict house in a St. Louis neighborhood devastated by imposed scarcity, it memorializes twenty-one people whose lives have been taken by police or vigilantes. Below, we explore the context of the mural and offer some background on those whose names are recorded on it. Remembering means fighting.
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
-Zora Neale Hurston
It is significant that this mural appears in south St. Louis, only a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, the site of the historic uprising of 2014. In many ways, the uprising in Minneapolis and the worldwide wave of revolt that it catalyzed are simply a continuation of a much longer struggle that re-entered the public consciousness with the rebellion in Ferguson in response to the murder of Michael Brown. We can trace a thread from the riots in Oakland in January 2009 in response to the police murder of Oscar Grant1 through a series of similar revolts around the US culminating in the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015.
If we follow the roots of these upheavals, we can go back further still—to the riots of the 1960s and all the way to the struggle against chattel slavery in the 1800s. As long as racialized disparities in power have been imposed from above, people have struggled against them from below.
In the current cycle of struggle, we are seeing many familiar dynamics play out once more. The movement in Minneapolis took off as a consequence of the courageous, confrontational action of outraged ordinary people who for the most part did not think of themselves as activists. Once it became clear that brute force would not suffice to put down the ungovernable rebellion, the authorities mobilized the National Guard, while liberal “community leaders” and police departments shifted tactics, attempting to present themselves as friends of the movement on the condition that the participants abandon the unruly strategies that had given them power in the first place.
Now self-described organizers are seeking to regain control of the streets, encouraging people to wait for a “justice” system that offers no guarantees. But as Alton, Illinois native Miles Davis admonished us decades ago, “When you’re creating your own shit, man [sic], even the sky ain’t the limit.”
In fact, all of these things that are happening now happened before in the Ferguson uprising. To be oriented in the present, it can help to go back and learn about the past.
While the 2014 uprising crested without breaching the fortifications of the police department, the movement of the past two weeks has attacked and shut down police stations from Minneapolis to Ferguson. In the words of Guy Debord, this kind of poetry “brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.”
“Oh, Black known and unknown poets, how often have your auctioned pains sustained us? Who will compute the lonely nights made less lonely by your songs, or by the empty pots made less tragic by your tales? If we were a people much given to revealing secrets, we might raise monuments and sacrifice to the memories of our poets, but slavery cured us of that weakness.”
-Maya Angelou, one-time resident of St. Louis
As Milan Kundera put it, “The struggle of man [sic] against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” In remembering the dead and the resistance that they inspired, we preserve a space for defiant grieving and a vision of a world without hierarchy.
Content warning: some of the following heartbreaking stories include graphic detail.
George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. Officers pinned him to ground and crushed the life out of him, despite pleas from both Floyd and bystanders that they were killing him. Protests in response to his death have catalyzed rioting, looting, and fires on a scale not seen in decades.
Kiwi Herring, a Black transgender woman, was shot to death by St. Louis police on August 23, 2017. Before police arrived, Herring had been using a knife to defend herself against a transphobic neighbor. Police used Herring’s knife as justification for killing her, then pressed trumped up charges against Herring’s partner, Kris Thompson, in order to keep Thompson from testifying against them. The charges are still pending. Herring’s death sparked local protests.
Mike Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. Brown’s death ignited weeks of protests, riots, and looting, precipitating anti-police struggles throughout America.
Isaiah Hammett, a white 21-year-old, was killed by a St. Louis SWAT team during a no-knock raid on June 7, 2017. After he secured the safety of his disabled grandfather, Hammett was shot to death by police, who fired over 100 rounds at him. In response to his death, Hammett’s friends and family led rowdy protests for days throughout south St. Louis, using their home as a base.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, an 8-year-old African-American girl, was killed by a Detroit SWAT team when they raided the wrong address on May 16, 2010. According to her grandmother, a flash grenade set Aiyana on fire before police shot her to death.
VonDerrit Myers, Jr. was killed by Officer Jason Flanery while Flanery was moonlighting as private security in south St. Louis’s Shaw neighborhood on October 8, 2014. Within hours of the shooting, a riotous crowd drove police from the scene of the Black teenager’s death. Occurring between the Ferguson uprising in August and the announcement in November that Michael Brown’s murderer would not be indicted, the killing sparked two nights of protests during which demonstrators attacked police, burned flags, and marched down the wealthy block that had hired Officer Flanery as security. Though the SLMPD had no qualms employing Flanery after he killed VonDerrit Myers, Flanery was fired in 2016 after he crashed his squad car in a wealthy neighborhood while drunk and high on cocaine.
Kajieme Powell was killed by St. Louis police officers Thomas Shelton and Ellis Brown August 19, 2014, ten days after the killing of Mike Brown. Powell, a 25-year-old Black man, had been pacing around holding a knife during a mental health episode. Instead of assessing the situation or helping Powell, police killed him within moments of arriving on the scene.
Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman, died under suspicious circumstances in a Weller County, Texas jail on July 13, 2015. Police claim she hanged herself; others doubt this narrative. Whether police killed Bland outright or simply held her against her will, causing severe distress, they are responsible for her death. Police are a danger to anyone they come in contact with, especially people of color, poor people, and those suffering mental health problems. Bland’s death catalyzed protests across America.
Vanessa Evans, a 37-year-old Black woman, died in police custody on November 5, 2010. Guards and medical staff in St. Louis’s downtown jail ignored repeated pleas from Evans that she was having an asthma attack and could not breathe. The jail is notorious for killing people by preventing them from accessing medical attention.
Jesus “Chuy” Huerta died in police custody in Durham, North Carolina on November 19, 2013. Police claimed that the 17-year-old Huerta shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police car. Huerta’s death drove protesters to march to the Durham police station and smash out its windows, precipitating weeks of conflict.
Mansur Ball-Bey, a Moorish teenager, was killed by St. Louis police on August 19, 2015. Ball-Bey was killed while fleeing a raid of his home. Rowdy protests ensued. Ball-Bey’s death occurred on the one-year anniversary of police killing Kajieme Powell. To make matters worse, the killer of VonDerrit Myers, Jr., Officer Jason Flanery, was spotted with a tactical unit sent to quell protesters.
Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was killed by Louisville police during a no-knock raid on March 13, 2020. Many people have invoked Breonna Taylor’s memory during recent anti-police demonstrations. Inspired by the Minneapolis revolt, on the night of May 28, protesters in Louisville trashed buildings, set fires, and looted for eight hours as a way of honoring Taylor and others the police have killed or harmed.
Carlo Giuliani was shot and killed by an Italian police officer on July 20, 2001. As a participant in the anti-globalization movement, the 23-year-old Giuliani had been engaging in combative protest against the G8 summit in Genoa.
Francis McIntosh was burned to death by a lynch mob on April 28, 1836 in modern-day Kierner Plaza, St. Louis. Police had arrested McIntosh, a Black steamboat worker, earlier in the day, after he refused to help them apprehend a shipmate of his. Officers William Mull and George Hammand told McIntosh he was going to be lynched. Fearing for his life, McIntosh stabbed them to death and fled, but was quickly captured.
If in the 1830s, white racist St. Louis had a stereotype of the “dangerous Black man,” it was the river worker. Enslaved or free, river workers were strong and independent. They traveled the waterways of the Midwest socializing, plotting, expropriating, and getting a sense of the world both North and South.
After the thousands-strong mob took McIntosh from the jail, they chained him to a locust tree, piled wood to his knees, and burned him to death. Although McIntosh pleaded with the mob to put him out of his misery during the half hour it took the flames to kill him, an unnamed alderman stood guard with a pistol to make sure that no one did.
Trayvon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. Though Martin was simply walking home, Zimmerman, a member of the community watch, assumed that the teenager was up to no good. Zimmerman stopped Martin and killed him. Martin’s death enraged people across America, ushering in a new era of protests against police and vigilantes.
Donnel Dortch, a Black teenager, was killed by a Kinloch police officer in September 1962. Dortch’s death sparked days of protests, riots, and fires throughout north St. Louis County. The suburban municipality of Kinloch borders Ferguson; these riots were a precursor to the 2014 uprising.
Joseph “Bam Bam” Long died in Meacham Park on July 5, 2005. Meacham Park, a Black working-class neighborhood in the suburbs of St. Louis, is surrounded by the affluent and white municipality of Kirkwood, which has a long history of exploiting Meacham Park while cutting off resources to it. At the age of 12, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long collapsed from a preexisting heart condition. When police arrived on the scene, they took advantage of the situation to search the house for Long’s older brother, Kevin Johnson, rather than administering aid to Long. Later in the day, after Long had died, Kevin Johnson killed one of the officers who had let his brother die. Johnson is currently on death row in Missouri.
Alexis Grigoropoulos was killed by Greek police on December 6, 2008. The 15-year-old was out with friends celebrating his feast day in the Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens when police shot him to death. The killing of Grigoropoulos provoked weeks of riots, looting, strikes, occupations, and fires throughout Athens and beyond.
John was killed by vigilante slave owners in Lewis County, Missouri on November 2, 1849. The elderly John had helped plan and execute the mass escape of between 30 and 40 people in northeastern Missouri. The runaways were friends and family of John’s who were enslaved to five local households. Though they managed to collect provisions and a number of their masters’ wagons and carts, the group stalled fifteen miles short of the Mississippi River, which marked the divide between “free” Illinois and enslaved Missouri. John was shot to death while attempting to negotiate, after which the runaways surrendered. Their masters re-enslaved the runaways and sold at least one conspirator, the medicine woman Lin, down river.
Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old Guinean immigrant, was shot to death by four New York City police officers on February 4, 1999. Diallo was returning from a late dinner; when the police stopped him, he reached inside his coat to remove his ID. The four officers responded by shooting 41 times in the span of just a few seconds, hitting Diallo 19 times. The killing sparked protests in NYC. Diallo’s name has come to evoke the vicious and cruel racism of the police.
Cary Ball, Jr., a 25-year-old Black man, was killed by St. Louis police officers Jason Chambers and Timothy Boyce. After a brief chase through downtown, Ball crashed his car. The police then shot him 25 times.
Countless others. We could fill whole city blocks with the names of those killed by police, vigilantes, and other perpetrators of systemic violence. In America alone, the police have ended the lives of about a thousand people per year for several years running now. While this mural emphasizes Black people killed locally and recently, it also includes a range of other people of various genders, races, spaces, and times, a mix of high-profile and relatively unknown cases.
Any such mural will always be incomplete. Even the scorched walls of all the worlds police stations and government buildings could never suffice to fit the names of all the people murdered by those institutions.
Part of the anarchist presence in the first Oscar Grant riots was organized by the group UA in the Bay, a holdover from the countrywide Unconventional Action network that had helped organize the anarchist mobilization against the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities in summer 2008. Everything comes full circle. ↩