Written by: Madlin Mekelburg, and Samatha Putterman
Questions about the deaths of six men affiliated with 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo. are resurfacing online as demonstrations rage across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man arrested in Minneapolis who died after a white officer knelt on his neck.
Ferguson experienced weeks of protests in 2014, after Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. That event and the subsequent demonstrations sparked an ongoing national conversation about race and the use of deadly force in policing.
Since Floyd’s death, photojournalists and people with cell phone cameras have been documenting protests happening across the country by sharing images on social media and news sites. Multiple social media posts have surfaced warning against posting photos of people participating in these protests, citing the deaths of six activists who protested in Ferguson. One reads: “If you are participating in any kind of protests, do NOT share photos and videos of other protesters without blurring their faces and distinct features of their body. It has great potential to endanger their lives.”
“Thinking of all the incredible Ferguson activists who were killed ‘mysteriously’ in the months and years following the protests – many of whom were in popularly circulated photos, videos.” Six men connected to the protests in Ferguson have died since 2014, and questions about their deaths have circulated within the community and among other activists ever since. Two of the men were found dead inside of cars that were set on fire, two died of apparent suicides, one died by an accidental drowning and one died of a fentanyl overdose.
On Nov. 24, 2014, the morning after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson, 20-year-old DeAndre Joshua was found dead, reportedly inside a burned car after being shot in the head. The timing, as well as Joshua reportedly being close friends with Dorian Johnson, who was with Michael Brown on the day of the shooting, led many to speculate if the events were connected. But Joshua’s family dispelled rumors that he was a “key witness” in Brown’s case, saying “he had known nothing about Mr. Brown’s death and never testified before the grand jury.”
Shawn Gray, a 23-year-old who went missing the same week Joshua died, was later found drowned in the River Des Peres. The city’s medical examiner later ruled that the cause of death was an accidental drowning, with alcohol poisoning as a major contributing factor. There were unproven rumors that Gray, like Joshua, was killed after testifying in front of a grand jury in the Brown case. But Gray’s family also dismissed those rumors, saying he had no connection to the case. Neither Joshua nor Gray were “prominent activists.” It’s important to note that even if both men had testified, their deaths came after the grand jury chose not to indict Wilson.
In September 2016, 29-year-old Darren Seals suffered a similar death to Joshua: his body was found inside a burning car after having been shot. Seals was a prominent figure in the protests and is seen in a video comforting Brown’s mother after the grand jury’s decision. “There is no information that exists that would indicate they are related in any way,” wrote Sgt. Benjamin Granda, a St. Louis County Police Department spokesman. “Gunshot wounds were identified as the cause of death of both victims. Both investigations remain ongoing. “We always remind people to please contact the St. Louis County Police Department at (636)529-8210 to speak to investigators regarding the incident.”
Edward Crawford Jr., 27, was featured in a famous photograph from Ferguson throwing a gas canister back at police. Police determined that he died by suicide in May 2017. In October 2018, 24-year-old Danye Jones was found dead in the yard of his St. Louis home. It was ruled a suicide. Jones’ mother, Melissa McKinnies, who was an active Ferguson demonstrator, said in a TV interview she thought it was foul play. The latest death happened in November 2018 when Bassem Masri, a 31-year-old Palestinian-American who livestreamed videos of the Ferguson protests, was found unresponsive on a bus. Toxicology results showed he died of a fentanyl overdose.