I told a friend recently that Prince would die if he knew how he died. The visionary musician from Minneapolis was famous for a lot of things, one of them being a strict teetotaler who was drug-free. The 57-year-old was self-medicating hip pain with the powerful synthetic narcotic Fentanyl, and he died from an unintentional overdose in April.
The same could be said for Darren “King D” Seals, who was shot in the head and left to burn in his Jeep this week in North St. Louis County, near the Mississippi River. The 29-year-old auto worker, rapper, and conscientious activist would shit his pants if he knew the facts surrounding his demise. He was a deeply proud man, and the image of him being offed in his car haunts the minds of those who knew and cared about him.
It was a particularly brutal murder. One gets the sense that whoever did it understood that he was doing more than killing a body: he figuratively poked all those in the eye who looked up to this fiercely proud man who wished to unify the oppressed of his home town against the forces keeping them down.
D was taut and wiry, with a lantern jaw and wide-set, almond eyes. He was a beautiful man, and his presence and charisma added extra tension to the swirling controversies at which he was the center.
The disparity between his online persona and his in-person impression was stark. We were not close, but I spoke with him a handful of times and he couldn’t have been more friendly. I have been known to be wrong about people, but I got the feeling that he was a good guy, that he was genuine. He didn’t have time to be fake.
I saw him at Blueberry Hill in early 2015 with his girlfriend, Naomi. I took a couple pictures. Here’s one:
Darren projected the conventionally masculine hardness he thought his environment required. Shot six times in the summer of 2013, he vowed to work to reduce the violence within his community and the violence directed at his community by the police.
He was compassionate and generous–a first day protester who befriended and consoled Mike Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden; co-founded Hands Up United, an organizational response to the uprising; and gave his time and money to those in need in Canfield Apartments, where the killing occurred.
He could also be viciously misogynistic, homophobic, and prone to conspiracy thinking. In the spring of 2015 he blasted a segment of protesters he disagreed with on Facebook, saying, “…Fuck those people with a aids dick…Everybody that’s left standing needs to use this next check to do something constructive with.”
Darren had difficulty recognizing the contributions of those he didn’t see eye to eye with, and he projected onto others some of the things he was doing, like ingratiating himself with visiting dignitaries.
The call on the street “during Ferguson” was “Let’s get free!” What some in the movement couldn’t process was that “Let’s get free” means different things to different people. Some understood that call to be multi-tiered. Also, some groups wanted different things to result from the uprising, such as getting the municipal courts off of citizens’ backs. Transgender folk demanded their human dignity and the right to live without harassment. Gay black women, many of whom were (are) our best leaders, expected the respect due to them for their heroic efforts. These were added on top of the immediate, pressing concern, which was: Stop killing us.
King D and his cohorts believed the revolution could be led from a central office directed by straight men. Another faction, mainly led by feminist lesbians said “Look at the power and influence we wield; the masses are with us.” Both sides came to reject each other. There was a third strand of thought comprised of the pragmatists, the grunts of the movement, (some figures moved back and forth between the groups), who said “All Black Lives Matter”–let us all come together to be subsumed under this rubric, with a laser focus and undiluted energy to get this thing done, then we can move on to the other matters. Or, to put it another way, let’s get back to the way it was at the beginning, when we were all unified. This was a romantic, stuck-in-amber image. This latter group loathed the so-called “orgs”, the professional organizers.
But the beginning was spontaneous and disorganized. We needed to organize to continue to mold the conditions for success and to keep the momentum going. These strands of thought have not been coherently woven together. The groups have yet to reconcile their differences.
King D’s murder reminded us all of these unresolved differences, the contradictions in the movement. Make no mistake, the community of conscience received the news of his death as an affront to the entire movement, as an attack on its goals. This one feels personal. It is a true inflection point in this ongoing story.
Revolutions are messy. The fringes cannot be contained. All of the above’s efforts were necessary, but not sufficient. We needed to persuade more white people that we were on the right track.
We have been partially successful. There is a new reality in the land. More Americans are woke, never to return to slumber. It started here, in Ferguson. Of that, I am very proud.
I ran for Ferguson City Council in the middle of the ferment. I ran explicitly as a protest candidate. Further, I am white, which we thought might be my ace in the hole to attract enough white voters to get over the top. The white power structure of Ferguson dominates my ward.
I did not win. The white male managing editor of the black weekly the St. Louis American, Chris King, told me, “If they didn’t come out and they didn’t come out for you, they weren’t your voters.” I get it intellectually, but it is a facile reading of the peculiar, albeit typical, history of Ferguson, MO. I received the third-highest vote total in a contested race against the former two-time mayor and head of “I Love Ferguson”, Brian Fletcher, since deceased. I got more votes than most of the people on the city council now. I could have won in 2015 with more help, the right help. Our lack of organization hurt the movement right here, when we could have seized a majority on the Council. My inability to ascend to the Ferguson City Council affects policy to this day, as the newcomers either openly back the mayor, James Knowles, or have been co-opted into his designs.
The monitor, the Department of Justice, and leaders of the City met with Federal judge Catherine Perry this week. Ferguson is behind on most of the deadlines within the consent decree. However, the judge patted Ferguson on the back, and said “Keep at it.” That’s not good enough. We need to keep the pressure on the leadership.
Each hour that passes the murder case gets colder. The police did not appear to do a tidy, thorough investigation of the crime scene. Shell casings and one of the doors to his vehicle were left at the location. The Major Case Squad was not assigned to this one. The community desperately needs to know who did this, and why. Conspiracy theories are already rampant, and it is conceivable that protests could be waged against whatever the police find. We need answers, good ones, now.
We may hope that King D’s legacy serves to help repair the disunity in the movement, that it might lead to greater focus, purpose, and success. Hope is a mushy concept. Hope requires fuel, it needs something to power and drive it. It was there the whole time, and it was King D’s real creed: Get out there and do something. That message applies to everyone, and cannot die.