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A year after Michael Brown's death, some progress in racial relations

By Andrew V. Pestano
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A year after Michael Brown's death, some progress in racial relations
A woman arranges rose petals at the site where Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police officer during a ceremony marking the one year anniversary that touched off weeks of violence and riots in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2015. The ceremony included 4 1/2 minutes of silence, representing the 4 1/2 hours the body of Michael Brown laid in the street after being shot. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

FERGUSON, Mo., Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., one year ago. Protests have been held, speeches delivered and reforms enacted, but the conversation about race and violence in America continues.

A march was held in Ferguson Sunday, and a four-and-a-half-minute silence was observed to represent the about four-and-a-half hours that Brown's body lay in the street after the shooting.

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Brown, 18, was shot by police officer Darren Wilson, who in November avoided indictment on charges related to Brown's death by arguing self-defense, which prompted violent protests in Ferguson.

In the past year, the attention on deaths of unarmed black men by police have at times dominated the public discourse.

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Last July, weeks before Brown's death, Eric Garner, 43, died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold. His death, and a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer, sparked nationwide protests in December.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was killed by Cleveland police in November. Tamir was shot to death while playing with a pellet gun in a park after police responded to a 911 call about a "a guy with a pistol" that was "probably fake."

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Police officer Timothy Loehmann fired several shots at Rice two seconds after arriving on scene. The city of Cleveland issued a response to a lawsuit by Tamir's family in February, saying the 12-year-old caused his own death.

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The Department of Justice released a report in March that accused the Ferguson Police Department of numerous instances of racial discrimination, which was followed by the resignations of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, Judge Ronald Brockmeyer and City Manager John Shaw.

The high-profile deaths gained worldwide attention. In May, the United States defended its human rights record before a council of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, that focused on apparent U.S. police brutality and excessive use of force after ongoing, nationwide racial tension. U.S. representatives recognized progress needed to be made.

President Barack Obama addressed the deaths and racial problems that persist in America.

"This isn't gonna be solved overnight. This is something that is deeply rooted in our society. It's deeply rooted in our history," Obama said on the deaths of Tamir, Brown and Garner in December. "We have made progress... the reason it's important for us to understand that progress has been made is that then gives us hope that we can make even more progress."

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Arguably, some progress has been made within the year. The "Black Lives Matter" movement gained worldwide recognition and both the police and government are under increased scrutiny over racial relations.

More recently, the death of Freddie Gray, 25, in April while under police supervision dominated conversations. Although Brown's death was ruled as justified, Gray's was considered a homicide, leading to the arrest of six Baltimore police officers.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake later announced the city's police department will be equipped with body cameras for its officers by the end of 2016.

Other high-profile police shootings the past year include the death of Walter Scott in Charleston S.C., and of Eric Harris in Tulsa, Okla. Police were also targeted in the mounting tensions, as NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed in execution-style shootings by suspect Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who mentioned on social media he sought revenge for Garner's death.

"We have to be persistent," Obama said, speaking on improving racial relations. "Typically, progress is in steps. It's in increments. When you're dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you have to have vigilance but you have to recognize that it's going to take some time and you just have to be steady so that you don't give up when you don't get all the way there."

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But quantifying progress may prove difficult. In June, the Charleston, S.C., church shooting perpetrated by suspect Dylann Roof, an apparent white supremacist, left nine dead in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is seen as a significant part of black history.

Roof's racist tirades and a picture of him holding a Confederate flag generated momentum that led for the flag to be removed from the state capitol grounds in Columbia, a move welcomed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But that victory was short-lived as the next victim of potential excessive use of force has been identified. On Friday, Brad Miller, a 49-year-old police trainee fatally shot 19-year-old Angelo State University defensive back Christian Taylor after the student crashed an SUV into a car dealership showroom.

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