“Me and my little brother just got slammed, guns pointed at our faces, and detained by Ferguson PD for being activist against Trump,” he wrote on Facebook.
Seals, who lived in St Louis, was found by county police in Riverview, one of the dozens of tiny municipalities that surround the city.
The number of murders in St Louis has risen every year since 2013, a trend that started before Brown was killed and that a local criminologist concluded did not support the claims of a so-called “Ferguson Effect”.
While Chicago’s murder numbers more often make headlines, St Louis has the highest murder rate of any large American city, according to 2014 murder data, the most recent available from the FBI.
A total of 159 black men were murdered in St Louis last year.
‘A lion who knew when to roar’
Seals had been part of the protests over Brown’s death from the very first day, fellow activists said, and he was a devoted and charismatic protest leader.
“He was like a lion who knew when to roar,” Bynes said. “He was not loud. He was not always out front. That’s not how Darren moved. A lot of the time he was at the back. He’d check in on me: ‘Patricia? Are you OK? Anything going on over here?’”
Seals was at the center of key moments of the Ferguson protest, including embracing Brown’s mother on top of a car as she mourned the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson.
“She literally cried in my arms – it was like I felt her soul crying,” he told MTV News. “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 also the activist who quietly but firmly confronted police union official Jeff Roorda for wearing a bracelet that said “I am Darren Wilson” at a city meeting.
Roorda said that confrontation was a “mature conversation” and called Seals’ death a tragedy.
“He was not hateful,” Roorda said. “He was angry about what he thought was going on in the world around him and he was passionate about that,” Roorda said.
“A lot of the protesters were very mean and hateful and disrespectful, and he was not.”
Russell, another protest leader, said Seals had not gotten enough credit for his work supporting the early stages of the Ferguson protest, setting the tone, making sure people got the protest, and making sure they were fed. He recalled one meeting early on with a small group of young men, some of them gang members, who were furious at being teargassed for the first time in their lives.
They wanted to know if they could go on the offensive and attack the police. Seals told them he did not want any of their people to get killed. “You have to fight back another way,” Seals told them, and helped them prepare for the teargas and rubber bullets by wearing gloves, bandanas and other protective gear.
“He had street credibility that other people in the room didn’t have,” Russell said.
Two weeks after Brown’s death, Seals and his fellow activists held a food drive and event for families at Canfield Green, where Brown was killed. That Christmas, they held an event giving gifts to local kids in need dubbed Hood Santa.
Seals lifted the energy of protests he attended, Rose said. Last year, after a protest, a group of activists were waiting together in a jail cell, Rose said. He couldn’t see because he had been pepper-sprayed, but the door opened and suddenly he heard Seals’ voice.
“He said something like: ‘I shoulda known I’d run into you people in a place like this,’” Rose said.
“He’s the only person I know who can walk into a jail cell of people attacked by the police and sitting here in pain and make us all bust out laughing.”
Seals had not been at the protest. But he was often hassled by the police, Rose said, and he had been brought in that time on what Rose remembered as an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation.
Russell said Seals had grown up “in the hood”. His father had been incarcerated. “He was a street guy who changed his life around. He wasn’t a killer or nothing like that, but he’d been out there, around killers, and he survived that. To have survived that and to be brutally shot and burned to death, I mean, and burned … ” he broke off.
“It’s easy to kill black people because we’re the have-nots,” Seals told MTV News after the grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson. “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.
“We plan to rally more and protest more, but the long-term goal: We’re trying to use all the resources we gained from this to educate people, because we all know the system will never change.”
Seals was a controversial figure in the police accountability movement. “He had and has a lot of views that many people regard to be sexist, misogynist and homophobic,” said Bynes, the protester and former committeewoman. “Many people felt like he spewed hate.”
In a Twitter post last year, Seals wrote: “#BlackLivesMatter is a gay/feminist movement not a black movement they are not ‘leaders’ they’re thieves who exploited the work of black ppl.”
The high-profile Black Lives Matter activists that Seals lambasted mourned his death via Twitter on Tuesday in restrained tones. Several of them referenced his death without using his name, a striking choice for members of a movement that uses “Say her name” and “Say his name” as rallying cries.
“We can live in a world where people don’t die by violence. Nobody deserves to die. We did not always agree, but he should be alive today,” McKesson tweeted Tuesday.
“I hope his soul is at rest. I truly don’t know what else to say,” Johnetta Elzie tweeted. “Peace to Ferguson protesters. This is so hard. We’ve never done this part before together.”
In a brief phone interview, McKesson did not comment on the incident in which Seals hit him.
“It’s what I tweeted,” McKesson said. “He should be alive today.”
Other protesters, though also frustrated with some of Seals’ views, spoke more warmly of him.
“I feel like his heart was in the right place. He was protective of his community. He had views that I do not agree with him on. That does not discount his passion and his work,” Bynes said.
“That’s what I loved about him the most, the fact that he was so unrepentant,” Bates said. “He wasn’t going to apologize for telling the truth.”
Masri said that he hoped to raise money to found the Darren Seals Youth Community Center in his friend’s honor, so the community could finally bring one of Seals’ dreams to reality. Seals had wanted the center to be staffed by people with street backgrounds and formerly incarcerated people, and to offer jobs programs and practical training on everything from how to open a bank account, to how to vote, to how to stay out of trouble by buying a gun legally.
Though Seals had pushed to get support for a youth center, other, more established groups had been able to moved forward, and Seals had not, Russell said.
“It seems like the same people – the NAACPs – the same people keep getting the resources,” he said. People like Seals, “who live in the community, really trying to change it for real – unfortunately die or get killed before change happens, and they never get it see it”.