Veteran Ferguson activist, hip-hop artist, and community member Darren Seals was found shot dead in a burning car Tuesday. Given the background of the victim and the circumstances of his death, Black Lives Matter activists have very real concerns to suspect involvement from either police or pro-police white supremacist forces.
“Darren Seals, an activist and Black Lives Matter supporter, was found shot dead inside a burning vehicle on Tuesday. The vehicle was located in St. Louis County just a few miles away from Ferguson, Missouri where Darren Seals helped spearheaded protests against “police brutality” after the justifiable shooting of Michael Brown Jr. by Officer Darren Wilson. Many of his supporters have taken to social media to attempt to put the blame of his death on police.”
“While under normal circumstances, these kind of conspiracy theories make for interesting and humorous reading, the fact remains that police officers are getting attacked and killed due to misguided nonsense like this.”
Darren Seals came to prominence during the August 2014 Ferguson Rebellion. In the aftermath, Seals co-founded Hands Up United, an organization that led early Ferguson actions in 2014. Seals grew a reputation for being abrasive and unapologetic, calling out anyone who he saw as threatening to his community. He’d often spar online with celebrity activists accusing them of making money off of anti-police activism. He even smacked DeRay McKesson at a Ferguson protest.
Seals never hid his past. He had been shot twice before, each incident described as “life changing.” He invested the rest of his life into Ferguson activism, feeling that he could help transform the city that created the violence in which he grew up.
In late July 2016, Darren Seals tweeted out that he had been pulled over by 10 police officers with guns drawn and given an ominous message:
The tweet has since been blasted across the Internet. Activists quickly noted the similarities between Seals’ death and that of DeAndre Joshua during the November 2014 Ferguson riots. Both victims were found in burning cars with gun shot wounds to the head. Justin Glawe of the Daily Beast reported that Seals is the sixth person in the St. Louis area to be murdered this way. Throughout 2014, three men were killed by gunfire and burned in vehicles. One victim, Terrell Beasley, was killed during a shootout with off-duty officer Don McGhee. McGhee shot and killed Beasley, who’s body later turned up in a burning car.
Glawe reported that when investigating Joshua’s death after the Ferguson unrest, he discovered most of the community refused to cooperate or even acknowledge that the murder took place:
“The day after Joshua’s death I went to the scene of his murder and knocked on doors. I was struck not only by the unwillingness of people to answer—this was also the day after Ferguson went up in flames after the grand jury decision—but the unwillingness to talk even to each other. No one knew the person next door. No one knew anything about the car fire that happened in the parking lot of their apartment the night before. People didn’t even want to admit to seeing police and firefighters arrive.”
“Joshua ran with a circle that included Dorian Johnson, the friend of Michael Brown who was with him the day of his fatal altercation with officer Darren Wilson. I was told by friends and family of Joshua that his proximity to Brown was causing tight lips to become even tighter. One family member even went so far as to speculate that the police had something to do with the killing.”
Activists noticed that police were behaving weirdly in the hours after they discovered Darren Seals’ body. The scene wasn’t taped off or otherwise marked. They also left a charred door at the scene instead of taking it as evidence.
While we can speculate that Seals may have been killed for his activism, nothing concrete suggests the police were involved. Yet, Blue Lives Matter shouldn’t malign this skepticism given the history of police repressing black political movements. In August 2016, Baltimore County copwatcher Korryn Gaines was killed by a police raid intended for her capture. Gaines sat with her five-year-old child wielding a shotgun in an hours long standoff before police broke the barricade. Black Lives Matter activists consider Gaines’ death to be a police assassination and many defended her right to self-defense against imminent violence.
Additionally, activists also have to feel the weight of an overbearing surveillance apparatus. Just as FBI intrusion into Occupy Wall Street is well documented, Black Lives Matter has also been heavily surveilled since the Ferguson Rebellion. Fusion centers coordinated with FBI surveillance planes that remained in the sky for months after the Baltimore Uprising. In August 2015, the Intercept revealed that the NYPD had been collecting information on Grand Central protests, photographing individual activists and key organizers. Prominent figures in the anti-police movement have been subsequently arrested and harassed by the police.
The police developed new tactics to silently repress Black Lives Matter in the shadows. Instead of mass arresting scores of protestors, the police target isolated activists when they’re cut off from their supporters. It’s not that hard for activists, especially black activists, to imagine the FBI coordinating their assassination or the police using fire to destroy evidence in attempts to silence their voices. The state has been doing it for decades.
With the Blue Lives Matter movement growing in reaction to prolonged anti-police protests, such repression will only get worse. When the authors of Blue Lives Matter paint serious inquiry as conspiracy theories, they silence dissent as insanity. By operating outside municipal authority through online anonymity, Blue Lives Matter groups play a pivotal role in censoring discussions that concern police repression. The history speaks for itself, we just need to make sure that history is never buried by the Right.