Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014, the world watched the aftermath of the shooting and the subsequent demonstrations and police actions through news coverage, including many stirring photographs.
One of those photos was taken by St. Louis Post Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen. It was part of a portfolio of work that won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. The picture shows a young man, body tensed in anguish, his face in a scream of sorrow, anger, frustration and fear. He is surrounded by other young people and one adult woman, her face grimaced with sadness, her hand on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.
Those two subjects, 21-year-old Jamell Spann and 47-year-old Elizabeth Vega, sat down at StoryCorps St. Louis to talk about the Michael Brown shooting and that photographic moment in time.
Spann recounts that he comes from a military family and Michael Brown's death shook him to the core. He didn't want to be powerless in the face of injustice. He said his thought process wasn't complicated. "I was thinking, 'These are my people. How could anyone want to inflict harm mentally, emotionally, physically on good people who have love for complete strangers?' And he wondered 'how it is that the region's leaders seem to treat African Americans as less than human?'
In recalling the day that the photograph was shot, Vega says how much she was trying to get him to walk around.
"I was afraid you were going to get hurt," Vega tells Spann. She says she felt helpless to ease his anguish.
Spann also remembers the moment the photograph was taken. He says at that moment, his rage and grief was overwhelming. But also remembers being surrounded by Vega and by his friends and that feeling of love and warmth has been unforgettable.
Spann says he has long been aware of the tension between the police and black men in St. Louis
As he moves forward, he says he doesn't want to let his emotions cloud his judgment. He says he realizes that whites and blacks have to come together. The experiences has given him the resolve to make a better future for his children.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story failed to identify the original photographer of the picture as Robert Cohen from the St. Louis Post Dispatch and instead attributed the picture to the Associated Press. Cohen’s work was distributed through the AP, but he was the person who took the photograph.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.