It’s been four and a half years since the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the unarmed young black man whose shooting by police officer Darren Wilson sparked protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, helping to solidify the Black Lives Matter movement. Though the unrest is over, his passing is still deeply felt in the community, particularly among activists who say they are receiving anonymous threats following reports of deaths in their community.
Since the 2014 shooting, about six people connected to the protests following Brown’s death have died — some in violent, mysterious ways, the Associated Press reports. While police say there is no evidence that foul play was involved in the men’s deaths, those within the community report feeling as if they are “on pins and needles,” Rev. Darryl Grey said. The prominent African American leader added that he has received anonymous threats, and that he recently found an unmarked box containing a 6-foot python in his car.
Most recently, Bassem Masri, 31, was found unresponsive on a bus in November 2018 and was later pronounced dead; a toxicology report revealed he had had a heart attack following a fentanyl overdose. Masri was well-known in the community for live-streaming and participating in the Ferguson protests, telling an interviewer in 2014 that he did so because he believed the mainstream media “ain’t gonna say the truth [about Brown’s death.] They ain’t gonna never say the truth. They got their own narrative.”
Two other men connected to the protests, Darren Seals, 29; and Deandre Joshua, 20, were found killed under similar circumstances. Joshua was found dead in a torched car in November 2014 during the Ferguson protests. Two years later, Seals was found dead in a torched car after having been shot. Both men were active in the protest community; Seals, for instance, was seen on video footage comforting Brown’s mother, Lezely McSpadden, at a protest in 2014. Following Seals’ death, Sgt. Shawn McGuire, police spokesman for St. Louis County, vowed to look into whether there was a link between the two deaths. “They [investigators] are aware that DeAndre Joshua died in the same kind of way,” he told the Daily News in 2016. “Anything’s a possibility. Our detectives are always going to look into different avenues, or if it’s the same kind of motive.” (Police are continuing to investigate both deaths.)
In addition to the deaths of Masri, Seals and Joshua, three men associated with the Ferguson protests are reported to have taken their own lives, according to St. Louis police: MarShawn McCarrel, 23; Danye Jones, 24; and Edward Crawford, Jr., 27.
Yet family members and friends in the Ferguson community say that the details of the deaths don’t quite add up. In Oct. 2018, for instance, Jones was found hanging by a sheet on a tree, yet his family members have said that they do not believe Jones would be able to make the knots required to have tied the sheets, nor did Jones’s mother, Melissa McKinnies, recognize the sheets themselves. “They lynched my baby,” she said in a Facebook post after her son was found dead last October.
While some people in the activist community believe that white supremacists may have played a role in the deaths, police say there is no evidence linking them to foul play of any kind. Others have suggested that the spate of deaths underscore the harsh reality of the lives of men in color in St. Louis, Missouri, where violent crime and homicide rates have also been on the rise and black residents are three times more likely to be poor than white residents, thus having less access to crucial physical and mental health services.