The 32 months that elapsed between Martin’s death and Brown’s were an incubation period—a time when millions of Americans experienced a dawning of consciousness on the issue of police violence against Black people. During this brief era, awareness of what would come to be regarded during the past year as the defining social crisis of our time was on the rise but hadn’t fully registered. Many Black people lost their lives in police encounters during this period, and many White police officers were allowed to walk away without consequences. And while the particulars of these encounters might have briefly made the news, neither the victims nor the officers involved became household names, and their stories were not widely held up as evidence of a national crisis.
The families of these pre-Ferguson victims have experienced the past year in a way no one else has. These mothers, fathers, siblings, and children have watched as their personal tragedies retroactively became part of a national debate not only about policing but also about the fundamental differences between being Black and White in America. In the year since Ferguson erupted, they have continued to mourn their loved ones, and they have poured their grief into activism, becoming inextricably tethered to a movement that had yet to fully emerge when their family members were taken from them. In so doing, they have found purpose, as well as sorrow and disillusionment.