Darren Seals Jr., a native of Ferguson, Missouri who rose to prominence as an activist in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown Jr. two years ago, was found dead in his Jeep earlier this month under circumstances that suggest for many observers he was the victim of a targeted assassination. Not only did Seals, a vocal critic of police brutality and racism who co-founded the group Hands Up United with Tef Poe in 2014, suffer a gunshot wound to the head, his entire vehicle was literally engulfed in flames when he was discovered. That makes Seals the sixth Black man to have been killed in this way in the St. Louis area since spring of 2014, and in at least one of the previous cases a police connection has been established.
It’s been more than two years since Ferguson police shocked the world with their heavy-handed response to protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s August 9, 2014 death at the hands of a police officer. Darren Seals Jr. responded to the call of history immediately, and was on the ground organizing people to make their voices of righteous indignation heard that same evening. When it was dreadfully, and not surprisingly, announced on the night of November 24, 2014 that a Grand Jury had decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, Seals was there to hug and comfort Mike Brown’s grieving mother. According to local activist Anthony Shahid of the Taheed Youth Group, Darren Seals and other youth of his generation were
tired of [the police’s] culture of cover-up when they keep getting away with killing us and ain’t shit done about it. The young people are constantly being harassed. Thrown on the ground, having their pants pulled down and the brothers are treated like dogs in front of their women. Darren spoke for the youth and he wasn’t no punk.
In that year’s election for St. Louis County executive, Seals decided to send a message of protest to the local Democratic Party whose executive control he grew up under by voting for the Republican (who he was not fond of either) in the race stating, “Just because they’ve got a D next to their name, that don’t mean nothing. The world is watching us right now. It’s time to send a message.” He wanted to demonstrate in his own way that no one should be under the illusion that real change came through the ballot box, observing that politician after politician his whole life did absolutely nothing to improve conditions in the community he grew up in. “We don’t need leadership,” said Seals. “We need ownership. We need black-owned businesses in the black community” he said of a community in which 67% of residents are Black but 55% of the businesses-owners are white. “We need a whole different system; we don’t need a different person in the [existing] system.”
He carried on with his activism and his work in the community with Hands Up United throughout 2015 and 2016, at times using his Twitter page to point out racist double standards and describe the harassment he experienced at the hands of police.
On more than one occasion this year he live-streamed his being stopped and harassed by police on Facebook. He did so because he was aware of them watching his every move. In his own words,
they be following my pages, they watch me, they got me under surveillance… These pigs will blow your head off. They will kill me, my brother. They will kill your grandmother, they don’t care about us. These motherfuckers at war with us. But they gonna learn. I don’t fear nothing, I don’t fear death. Nothing!
According to Darren Seals Senior, the father of Darren Jr, his son “knew he made people angry because he spoke his mind, so he knew something might happen to him.” Suspecting that the police were targeting him, Darren Seals Jr. said to his father, “Daddy, if anything happens to me or I get killed know that the police did it.”
Not long after he uttered those words, Darren Seals Jr. was engulfed in flames inside his Jeep, which was parked in an apartment complex in the St. Louis suburb of Riverview. According to a police report, fire marshals arrived at 1:50 a.m. on September 6 to extinguish the flames, though several witnesses dispute this, insisting they actually arrived more than an hour earlier, shortly after midnight. The 29 year old had suffered a probably fatal gunshot wound to the head. Final Call spoke to witnesses from the community, one of whom claims to have seen a “White guy” from up the street approach Darren’s vehicle about five minutes after he’d arrived in the parking lot. Then suddenly out of nowhere,
boom (the car exploded). He took off running straight through the woods. The whole car was engulfed in flames and it was so hot the driver door fell off, and the spare tire melted that was on the back and fell off the car… No gun shots happened out here. He did not get shot out here at all.
In reference to the Jeep, the alleged witness stated, “It was like somebody shot at it to make it blow up. It exploded that fast.” The firefighters then arrived to put out the fire and were shocked to notice there was a body inside the Jeep. When the cops arrived to recover the body (notably without even taping off the scene), it appeared his body was no longer in one piece. “That man did not come out whole,” the witness said.
So what happened to Darren Seals Jr.? His friend and co-founder of Hands Up United Tef Poe says point-blank he believes Seals was assassinated. “Out here in Ferguson and St. Louis as a whole we don’t have no misconceptions of what’s going on here.” There’s more than enough reason to be suspicious, not least of which is the manner in which Seals was killed. He was the sixth Black man to be killed in same way, shot in the head before being located in a burning vehicle, since the spring of 2014. The best known of the previous 5 instances was the mysterious death of 20 year old DeAndre Joshua, who turned up in a burning car after having been shot in the head on the very night the Grand Jury delivered its decision of no indictment for Darren Wilson and at the exact same apartment complex where Michael Brown was viciously gunned down. To this day neither a motive nor a suspect has been identified by St. Louis or Ferguson police in Joshua’s death. What is known about DeAndre Joshua is that he often hung around Dorian Johnson, the young man who accompanied Mike Brown when he was shot to death by Darren Wilson. Johnson expressed fear after learning of Joshua’s death that he might be targeted next.
Another man whose body was discovered inside of a burning car after being shot was named Terrell Beasley. Beasley was involved in a shootout with an off-duty police officer by the name of Don McGee. It should be noted that McGhee along with two of his fellow officers, Keith Major and Durand Brassfield, are the ones who sold Terrell Beasley the shotgun he then used to shoot at Don McGhee in the first place. McGhee eventually killed Beasley during the shootout, and then a few hours later Beasley’s body inexplicably turned up “in a burning vehicle in the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis.” This does seem to suggest that, at least in this one case, there was a police connection to the burning death. The reasoning behind lighting the car and body on fire, it has been speculated, is to eliminate evidence that can be used in a homicide investigation.
If Seals’ death were indeed a targeted assassination by a government authority, as some are speculating, it wouldn’t be without historical precedent. One can’t help but be reminded of the case of Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther leader who was assassinated in 1969 by the Chicago Police Department in collusion with the FBI in his own home, targeted for his ability to unify Black communities and their allies together for the purpose of creating revolutionary change. The forces of counterrevolution that snuffed out that leading light of hope back then are still around today. As noted on It’s Going Down!
The police developed new tactics to silently repress Black Lives Matter in the shadows. Instead of mass arresting scores of protesters, the police target isolated activists when they’re cut off from their supporters. It’s not hard for activists, especially black activists, to imagine the FBI coordinating their assassinations or the police using fire to destroy evidence in attempts to silence their voices. The state has been doing it for decades.
Like Fred Hampton before him, Darren Seals Jr. was more than simply an activist. He was a revolutionary. He demonstrated a state of awareness and unique level of political prowess which, as he himself noted on several occasions, put him in the cross-hairs of the authorities whose power he challenged. Reflecting on what he and the youth of Ferguson achieved when they set the world on fire with their brave show of resistance in the summer of 2014, Seals remarked, “I don’t think people will ever really appreciate what we did until years from now. We really did the best we could.” Darren Seals Jr. is gone, but the struggle for which he gave his life will continue.