Ferguson police tell a far different version of events. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters that Brown struggled with the officer over his sidearm.
We don’t know all the facts in this case, but I continue to hold on to the one critical piece of evidence that law enforcement and witnesses all agree on: Brown was unarmed.
I have written far too many of these columns over the years; stories about young black men whose lives are snuffed out by callous men who are fast on the trigger.
I’ve grown weary of watching the funeral processions for young Black men play out in real time on network television. It upsets me when I hear Black mothers grieving for their slain sons while some folks dismiss this crisis as a routine occurrence. I’m exhausted watching press conferences where police stand before the cameras and call for increased sensitivity training for their departments.
But I grieve, too, for these families. The call for justice is more crucial than ever because Black men and women are dying on our streets at an alarming rate and under questionable circumstances.
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen from Sanford, Florida, was killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of his murder. Eric Garner, a black father of six children, died last month after a New York police officer put Garner in an illegal chokehold and Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old Detroit woman, was shot and killed by Theodore Wafer after McBride knocked on Wafer’s Dearborn Heights door for help after a car accident.
Wafer’s razor-thin self-defense claim was rejected by a jury who convicted him last week of 2nd degree murder.
“These incidents erode the public’s confidence in the justice system,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “This is about more than one community. Similar incidents have been documented all over the country.”
Local faith leaders are asking why another young unarmed black man was killed by police gunfire – and they wonder when the deadly pattern will end.
Rev. Rodney T. Francis, Pastor of Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, joined a group of black ministers Sunday who met with Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
“Though we are waiting for the facts of the case to come out, this is yet another tragic incident of an unarmed youth’s interaction with a police officer that has ended in the homicide of that youth,” Francis, the father of two young boys, told me. “There is an expressed concern about how police officers are being trained to de-escalate rather than escalate interactions with unarmed citizens in high-stress communities.”
Ferguson is one of those high-stress communities. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in 2013 police pulled over blacks at a 37 percent higher rate than whites compared to their relative populations. Black drivers were twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested compared to white drivers. This was Michael Brown’s world.
The FBI is now investigating the Brown case and hopefully that brings some level of comfort to Brown’s family.
“The shooting incident in Ferguson, Missouri, this weekend deserves a fulsome review,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “In addition to the local investigation already underway, FBI agents from the St. Louis field office, working together with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, have opened a concurrent, federal inquiry.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, president of The National Action Network, plans to meet with Brown’s family Tuesday after Brown’s grandfather asked Sharpton to step in.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, told reporters that raising a black male in urban America is a challenge and that Brown’s graduation from high school was a success story for her family. The shooting, McSpadden said, wasn’t justified. She believes if the need arose, her son could have been subdued with a club or Taser. She said the officer involved should be prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said.
I didn’t know Michael Brown, but I do believe that a thorough investigation of his death by the FBI must be completed for justice to find its way to Ferguson.
In a chilling post on his Facebook page last week, Brown wrote to a friend as he prepared for college: “if i leave this earth today, at least youll know i care about others more then i cared about my damn self.”
(Photo: Rev. Rodney T. Francis, pastor of Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis speaks at a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, before a coalition of local faith leaders met with Ferguson’s police chief about Michael Brown’s death. Picture courtesy of Rodney T. Francis)