Darren Seals, an organizer of the protests that followed the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, was found shot to death inside a burning vehicle on Tuesday in St. Louis County, according to local news reports.
Seals, 29, was a factory line worker and hip-hop artist, according to the St. Louis American, but these are the words he used to describe himself in his Twitter profile: "businessman, revolutionary, activist, unapologetically BLACK, Afrikan in AmeriKKKa, fighter, leader."
Seals' remains were found at around 1:50 a.m. on Tuesday morning in a charred vehicle on the 9600 block of Diamond Drive, a dead-end street about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper reported that authorities have not released any information about a suspect or a possible motive in the killing.
Seals became a prominent figure during the protests in Ferguson, a suburb northwest of St. Louis, in the summer and fall of 2014. In an interview with MTV, Seals recalled standing next to Brown's mother Lesley McSpadden when the grand jury's decision not to indict the officer who shot her son was announced, prompting a riot in Ferguson.
"We already knew what the decision would be, but at the same time it still hurt to hear it," he said. "...and for Mike Brown's mother to be right there in my arms crying — she literally cried in my arms — it was like I felt her soul crying. It's a different type of crying. I've seen people crying, but she was really hurt. And it hurt me. It hurt all of us."
Seals was active on Twitter, and many of his recent posts expressed support for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his controversial decision to protest the treatment of minorities in the US by refusing to stand during the national anthem.
Seals' friends and fellow activists mourned his loss on social media, with one describing him as being among the "day one" protesters in Ferguson.
Seals was an organizer with the group Hands Up United, which describes itself as "a collective of politically engaged minds building towards the liberation of oppressed Black, Brown and poor people through education, art, civil disobedience, advocacy and agriculture." The group is behind a campaign called Polls Ova Police, which aims to boost voter turnout for local elections in November.
As of last month, according to the Post-Dispatch, murders in St. Louis County were up 30 percent compared to the previous year. In his interview with MTV, Seals spoke about how violence in his community affected him.
"It's easy to kill black people because we're the have-nots," he said. "We're at the bottom of the totem pole. What people don't understand is, we actually live in a nightmare. We actually live in a place where gunshots [are normal]. We hear gunshots every day."
Follow Keegan Hamilton on Twitter: @keegan_hamilton