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Grieving mother, community remember slain teen

By Anisah Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jul 27, 2017 - 3:40:18 PM

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MEMPHIS—Family and friends of Darrius Stewart convened recently to memorialize the slain 19 year old at New Direction Christian Church. Two years ago, the Memphis resident was shot multiple times by former Memphis Police Officer Connor Schilling in the parking lot of the church.

Mike Brown Sr. and Mary Stewart during recent memorial for Darius Stewart. Photo: Anisah Muhammad

According to media reports, Darius was a backseat passenger when a car he was in was stopped by police because of a minor traffic violation. Ofc. Schilling placed the teen in the back of his squad car while he tried to verify two warrants allegedly filed against Darrius in two states. Police say Darius then resisted arrest and a struggle ensued with Ofc. Schilling. Darius was then shot three times, twice in the chest and once in the back by the officer.  

A video recorded the struggle between the two a few moments before the teen’s death. A grand jury declined to indict Ofc. Schilling and in April of last year, he was granted early retirement on a disability claim of post-traumatic stress disorder, reported a local Memphis television station.

“This is the worst day of my life. This is the day my son was taken,” Darius’ mother Mary Stewart said during the July 17 memorial. Two years later, she still grieves for her son.  She recounted what she says is the true story of what happened to her son. She disputed the police account, saying Darrius’ identity was mistaken and that he did not have any warrants.  As a backseat passenger, he should not have been questioned, she said. She also states the officer drove Darius to the church where he ultimately lost his life.

The family filed a lawsuit of a little more than $17 million. Parts of the lawsuit were dismissed in February. The trial is set for June 18, 2018 with a pretrial hearing set for June 8 of next year.

“I relive this day every day, but when it finally gets here, it feels like it just happened,” Mary Stewart said as community residents gathered at the spot where he died.

She placed part of the blame on the city of Memphis, saying the city is stained with innocent blood, including children younger than her son.

“Darrius Stewart and every other life the police have stolen, their justice is already woven,” she said.

Among those who attended the memorial service were Mike Brown Sr., activist and father of slain teen, Mike Brown Jr., and his family, members of the Nation of Islam and members of the New Black Panther Party.

Two poets, Yolanda Gates and Sebastian Carson, set the tone of the service with a spoken-word piece about the pain of a Black mother.

“Me speaking from that piece, with me being a mother, that was my biggest fear when I had my son. I didn’t realize there were some things I would have to think about that I didn’t have to think about with my daughter or what he would face in society, just being a young Black boy,” said Ms. Gates.

The 27-year-old mother said she has to constantly tell her eight-year-old son to straighten up, because Black boys walk around with targets on their backs from police brutality.

“I’m pregnant with another boy. So, bringing another life into this world, you don’t want to always have to worry about if they’re going to be targeted by the police,” she said.

Mr. Carson said police brutality tramples throughout the entire family structure.

“I feel as though every single day, we have a different speech that we prepare our kids for as it relates to their relationship with their skin,” the 26-year-old Memphis resident said.

The spoken-word piece was meant to honor a mother who lost her son to police brutality in a way that shows her true emotions, Mr. Carson said.

Darrius Stewart’s family along with Mike Brown’s family led memorial conveners on a walk to the spot where Darrius died. His name was said 21 times to represent his 21st  birthday.

“We need to take up our brother’s life and breathe in the breath he is no longer able to take,” Rodney Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 55 said. “We need to take control of our own communities, but we can only do that if we take control of our own lives,” he added. “It’s our time to make our communities a decent and safe place to live,” Mr. Muhammad said.

Mike Brown Sr. said he’s tired of the police getting away with murder and that they must be held accountable for their actions. “The rules need to be shredded and rewritten so Black people can have some say-so,” said Mr. Brown.

“If we don’t unify, we gon’ die. We got to unify. That’s the only way. Unify or die,” he said.