Flesh in the Street

  • Jodi Rios Temple University Press


Much has been written in various media outlets regarding the causes of, meanings of, and, to some extent, solutions to events in Ferguson. Also debated is whether or not a genuine social movement is emerging, what form it is taking, and if it can be sustained as places like New York, Cleveland, and Baltimore take Ferguson’s place on the front page. While much of this work assumes the Ferguson Protest Movement and the now more widely known Black Lives Matter movement to be one and the same, a closer look suggests that the Ferguson protestors maintain organizational and political distinctions unique to this particular group and place. With this in mind, it is important to consider two questions. What was specifically different about the death of Michael Brown and the place in which he lived and died, such that this event sparked sustained protests around the world? And what is different about the core group of protestors that emerged from the events in Ferguson, Missouri?

This essay considers a potential paradigm shift in the struggle against the well-honed logics of racialization in the United States and offers a little hope toward the future. As leaders of the early protests in Ferguson would later describe, the need to place their bodies directly on the front lines of the militarized police action initially rose as a response to the spectral flesh of Michael Brown’s body and had as much to do with pushing back against the historical disciplining of their bodies in space—as bodies out of place—as it did with protesting yet another police officer abusing deadly force. This was the critical factor that sparked another kind of flesh in the street in the form of the Ferguson Protest Movement. This intentionally orchestrated spectacle—of unapologetic Black life and flesh—in turn breathed new life into a fledgling movement that simply insisted that Black lives matter.