“After the Uprising”: Ferguson Activists Allegedly Faced Police Harassment And Brutality

When Melissa McKinnies found her son Danyé Jones hanged from a tree in their backyard, St. Louis County quickly ruled his death a suicide — but she knew it was more than that.

When Melissa McKinnies found her son Danyé Jones hanged from a tree in their backyard, St. Louis County quickly ruled his death a suicide. The seemingly perfunctory and dismissive investigation into Danyé’s passing raised red flags for Melissa, whose passionate activism has placed her and her community directly in the line of fire. To truly understand her suspicions that there is more to Danyé’s death than meets the eye, we must return to Ferguson, Missouri in the fateful summer of 2014, where the killing of Mike Brown changed the course of history overnight.

18-year-old Mike Brown, Jr. was killed by the police on August 9th, 2014, who left his body lying on the asphalt of Canfield Avenue for hours in the blistering summer heat. The ignoble death of Brown was the spark that lit the flame of an uprising, fueled by the long history of violence the Ferguson community had already claimed to have endured at the hands of the police. Friends and neighbors took to the streets, marching, demonstrating, and protesting peacefully, and as the police allegedly tried to crack down on their free assembly, the movement grew stronger. Participants spent the long nights of protests talking, learning, and forming groups to further their fight against injustice. One such group came to be known as the Lost Voices.

Long after the initial protests died down, the Lost Voices remained on the streets, night and day, sleeping in tents and organizing actions to ensure the uprising would not simply fade with a whimper. As their mission persisted, the group continued to add new Voices, such as 18-year-old Joshua Williams and a mother of three named Melissa McKinnies. As they continued to occupy spaces and demand change, the Lost Voices immediately found themselves in the sights of the Ferguson police, who seized their tents and violently arrested members who dared to question them. The Lost Voices returned to their homes, but it was only the beginning of the police’s campaign to harass, intimidate, and discourage the activists.

Later, during an activist meeting in late 2014, an altercation erupted as an outsider asked not to livestream the proceedings was seemingly doing so. According to Melissa, she retrieved the man’s phone from someone who had violently taken it and was intending to sell it, and ensured the device was sent back to its rightful owner. Despite her minimal involvement, and the lack of cooperation by the alleged victim, St. Louis County police proceeded to charge Melissa with assault and robbery. She was arrested on the outstanding warrant in 2016. Today, long after her acquittal, Melissa believes these were trumped-up charges against her and her fellow activists made with the deliberate intention to stifle the movement. Any faith she had in the police was already on thin ice by the time of the alleged phone theft. By the end of 2014, it would be shattered entirely.

At a protest over the police killing of yet another Black man, Antonio Martin, Melissa was joined by her son Danyé and three members of a group called the Peacekeepers, activists aligned with Lost Voices who were trained in de-escalation tactics. During the demonstration at a Mobil On the Go gas station, the police violently attacked two of the Peacekeepers, Bruce Franks Jr. and Cap Kennedy, as well as other protestors, beating them, stomping them, and spraying incapacitated people with mace.

Body-cam footage later released publicly revealed one police officer involved, Officer Timothy Anderer, bragging about his use of excessive force. Despite these actions, he was promoted rather than reprimanded shortly after, which is how Melissa McKinnies found herself face to face with Detective Anderer on the morning she discovered her son’s body. He would be the lead investigator for her Danyé’s case, which County would quickly rule a suicide. Meanwhile, Melissa’s surrogate son in Lost Voices, Joshua Williams, is in prison serving an eight-year sentence for starting a small fire that was quickly put out at a nearby gas station, as the police who brutalized his fellow protestors faced no consequences. Brutalized former Peacekeeper Bruce Franks was later elected to the Missouri General Assembly and sued Anderer and other police in a civil suit.

The saga of the Lost Voices and Peacekeepers serve as a stark reminder of the distrust the police have earned from the communities they are supposed to serve, the loss of faith in institutions from the people they are harming instead of protecting. Many in Ferguson believe the harassment and violence were part of a concerted campaign to intimidate and discourage protesters from speaking out against police violence. How, then, could Melissa Mckinnes trust the police to fairly investigate the death of her son?

Hear more from the activists involved in the protests in their own words on the second episode of “After the Uprising”’ featuring damning body-camera tapes and painful interviews with the Lost Voices and Peacekeepers who were targeted and brutalized by the police for simply demanding justice. Make sure to follow ‘After the Uprising’ on Facebook and Twitter for further updates and insights on Danyé’s story.