Activists mourn the loss of Vine app they say shined a spotlight on Ferguson

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Some on Twitter mourn the loss of the Vine app

Videos from the defunct Vine app captured protests, anger and frustration in Ferguson

Editor’s Note: Warning. A video in this story contains graphic language.

CNN —  

Antonio French arrived at the scene two years ago, soon after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, had been shot in Ferguson, Missouri. French stood in the crowd behind the barricade of police preventing people from getting closer to Brown, who lay dead in the street.

French, a north St. Louis City alderman, started tweeting what he saw. He tried to upload videos to his YouTube account but that took too long.

He remembered he had a little-used Vine account where he had posted only cute videos of his children. He began posting the six-second vines of the scene on Aug ust 9, 2014, on Canfield Drive, and posted more in the days that followed. They were among some of the earliest social media videos showing racial tensions in Ferguson.

The videos captured the protests, anger and frustration, such as one that showed people chanting “What do we want? Justice,” as they stood behind the line of officers down the road from where Brown was shot.

Vine, the app that Twitter said Thursday it was discontinuing, played a central role in helping activists like French and others shine a spotlight on the shooting of Brown by a white police officer and on racial tensions in Ferguson. The brief videos also gave voice to many black residents who were frustrated over the way they said police treated them.

Many journalists also used Vine to cover the shooting and protests that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement before the days of Twitter’s live-streaming app Periscope and Facebook Live.

“What Vine provided was a way for us to shoot video and share these bite-size videos very quickly and easily,” French told CNN Thursday. “That’s how the story spread, through Tweets, through social media, through short videos. The story of what was happening in a small suburb in St. Louis quickly spread across the globe.”

French said large media outlets ultimately flocked to Ferguson to cover the story after learning about it on social media.

The Vine app, though, now has taken a backseat to the more popular Periscope app. The Vine web site will stay online to showcase previously-made videos, according to Twitter, which is cutting its staff by 9% after a widely rumored sale process appear to have yielded nothing.

French said the Vines were easily shared on Twitter. Over the past two years, his Vines have been viewed more than 98 million times.

On the recent anniversary of Brown’s death in August, French posted a 48-minute montage, called #FERGUSON, of mostly Vines he shot in August 2014. They serve as a documentary of sorts of the aftermath in Ferguson.

French posted the montage again on Thursday.

French, 39, said he had been to many crime scenes but he was struck by the sight of police officers from different municipalities “standing in a line across the street preventing people from going down to see what was happening,” on the day Brown was killed.

“I wasn’t there for a more than a few minutes before they brought out the big SWAT team vehicles, what later become known as the tanks,” he said.

He added: “I can tell you that story … but until you see the video and until you see the photos, a lot of people in the world and in St. Louis wouldn’t have believed it.”

Vine also captured protests in communities like Baton Rouge, where officers fatally shot Alton Sterling outside a convenience store after authorities said he reached for a gun.

On Twitter, many mourned the loss of Vine.

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson tweeted “I’ll always love Vine,” because it “was all we really had” during the protests in the Fall of 2014 .

Brown’s death in the mostly-black suburb, with a white mayor and a nearly all-white police department led then by a white chief, sparked protests by activists who called for reform in the criminal justice system, including many who were part of or supported the Black Lives Matter movement.

Protestors widely criticized police who drove military equipment into Ferguson’s streets and pointed guns at them during the initial protests of Brown’s death.

People on the scene that day said Brown was surrendering, with his hands up, when he was shot. Others point to details of the grand jury and a Department of Justice investigation. Both ultimately determined Wilson was justified in the shooting and did not violate Brown’s civil rights, saying the evidence showed Brown scuffled with Wilson in his police car and did not show Brown surrendering when he was shot.

After Brown’s death, the Justice Department found that local police officers had excessively stopped and ticketed black residents, often citing them multiple times in a single stop.

In May, Ferguson made Delrish Moss, its first African-American police chief. Moss, a longtime veteran of the Miami Police Department, faces the challenge of trying to unify and heal a fractured community.

Despite the early role Vine played in protests, activists and others have used other social media platforms and cell phone video to capture the death of unarmed black men at the hands of police and the protests that followed. The videos continue to ignite a debate over police conduct.

Among the videos, Diamond Reynolds captured the aftermath of the shooting of her fiancé Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop on July 6 in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. In the video, a composed Reynolds, whose daughter four-year-old daughter Dae’Anna, witnesses the ordeal from the backseat, pulled out her cell phone and began live-streaming the events on Facebook.

Castile ultimately died at the scene.