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A new chance at justice for Mike Brown, Jr.?

By Richard B. Muhammad Editor @RMFinalcall | Last updated: Aug 14, 2019 - 3:09:28 PM

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(L) Protestors take to streets in 2014. Photo: Cartan X (R) Mike Brown’s parents, Lezley McSpadden and Mike Brown, Sr., at 2014 protest.

CLAYTON, Mo.—Five years ago protests in the small town of Ferguson, Mo., rocked the country and registered worldwide as searing images of cops in military-style vehicles and body armor firing rubber bullets, tear gas cannisters and pepper spray at American civilians were beamed around the globe.

Mike Brown, Jr.
The fearlessness of the protestors and the ferocity of the response of law enforcement raised a question: Could a system largely seen as an immovable object be moved by the power of people and their demands for justice? The question remains and was raised Aug. 9 outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Center as Mike Brown, Sr., called for reopening an investigation into the killing of his son. Mike Brown, Jr., died August 9, 2014 at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Off. Wilson, who eventually resigned, was never charged in the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager. It was another encounter in which a young, Black male died at the hands of a White officer.

But the recent appeal from a still hurting father and community was made to a different person, a Black man who holds the office of county prosecutor, an office Blacks had condemned as too close to police and too anti-Black in the past. 

The man Mike Brown, Sr., appealed to was Wesley Bell, a former Ferguson city councilman, who last summer unseated former county prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch, who was the target of protests as demands for justice for Mike, Jr., persisted for years after this death. Mr. Bell now serves as prosecutor for St. Louis County, Mo., and could look into the case. 

And, activists and residents say, his election was undoubtably linked to anger, demonstrations and condemnation that followed Mr. McCulloch’s refusal to charge Mr. Wilson and outrage over what many saw as his improper handling of the case and a grand jury proceeding that refused to indict Off. Wilson. 

During the four minute and a half mo- ment of silence, Mike Brown, Sr., wife Cal and daughters sadly reflect Mike Jr.’s death. Photo: J.A. Salaam
“I definitely don’t feel like he owes me nothing, I do feel like he needs to do his job,” said Mike, Sr., as a bank of television cameras, video cameras, and cell phones captured his words. His appeal was not an “ambush” of Mr. Bell, who is a man he said he respected. His appeal was not a fight with Mr. Bell, it was a call for looking into a case that has problems, he said. There have been conversations with Mr. Bell, but the processes need to be speeded up, Mike, Sr., added.

 “My son was murdered in cold blood with no remorse,” continued Mike, Sr., who was accompanied by his wife, Cal, his children and families from around the country who have lost loved ones, often to police violence. They came to town to mark the weekend anniversary of his son’s passing at the invite of the Michael Brown, Jr., Foundation and Chosen for Change. The weekend was devoted to activities that sought to “humanize” Mike, Jr., highlight the value of youth, continue calls for change, bring the community together, and support families who have suffered tragic losses. It was the fifth year of such observances. An integral part of the gatherings has been honoring the memory of the 18 year old whose life was cut short and remembering others whose lives were taken, often unjustly.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson
“I am demanding evidence to be analyzed and accountability to follow,” said Mike, Sr. “I will stand and fight until the day I die for justice. Not too much has changed. My son was not the first to die by the hands of those who vow to protect and serve, and sadly he won’t be the last.”

The documentary “Stranger Fruit,” released in 2017, brought some attention to the shooting and questions about the accounts of police officials, evidence and the grand jury as well as the problem of institutional racism inside police departments. 

"If it’s able to be opened, we’ll have a day in court, if not (Mr. Bell) said we won’t be doing anything, but I am here today in front of you and the world to demand that someone look into the case,” said Mike, Sr. The evidence doesn’t match up and everyone lied and covered up from the police chief at the time to the former county prosecutor, he said. My son’s hands were up, according to a private investigator hired by the family, and the police lied and said that Mike, Jr., was involved in a strongarm robbery, he continued. 

The encounter between Off. Wilson and Mike, Jr., was described initially as a traffic stop which escalated, and the officer claiming the young man charged him as he fired shots into Mike, Jr.’s body.  At least six shots struck Mike Jr., and a fatal shot is believed to have struck him in the head. After the shooting, police put out an image of what looked like a confrontation between Mike, Jr., and a storeowner, and a report of a robbery. But no robbery call went out before the encounter with Off. Wilson and no robbery occurred, said family members. The image was a still taken from a full videotape.

It was another effort by police to cover up the shooting and lie about the shooting victim, said family and activists.

Lezley McSpadden visits her son’s grave on fifth anniversary of his death.
Tory Russell was on the front lines of Ferguson protests and believes the Brown case should be reopened. His organization, the International Black Freedom Alliance, has put out a petition calling for reopening of the case. “The number one reason I believe that the masses of Black people in North County voted for Wesley Bell was police reform. We wanted that form of justice. I know he has a lot of things on his plate, and he’s done some good things on child support and traffic tickets. But I think this should be priority number one for the county prosecutor, especially coming from Ferguson, being a Ferguson councilman, and then unseating a 28-year prosecutor. He has an opportunity to do something to restore what we believe is unjust and to bring a little justice,” Mr. Russell, 35, said.

“As protestors, activists and organizers, we can’t just allow him to sit in the seat and say a Black face in a high place and have the tokenism. That’s not enough. We have to have substance. We want him to be the prosecutor, but we also want him to prosecute the police and all the criminals involved. That might be just Darren Wilson, that might go as far as Bob McCullough. We want you to pursue justice in the same ways that it would be for everyone else.” 

“We know how flawed that whole grand jury system was in the first place,” said Fran Griffin, who was among protestors five years ago and today serves as Third District Councilmember. There were complaints about how the grand jury process was handled in November 2014, how evidence was presented and how witnesses were and were not presented. The grand jury declined to charge Mr. Wilson with anything.  

Ms. Griffin came out to show support for the Brown family and the community. She has focused on police policies like use of force and the right of officers to search people, changing those policies and adding police accountability.

Protestor Anthony Shahid leads marchers as they confront Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper in front of the Ferguson police station on Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Photo: AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever heard,” said longtime activist and Brown family confidante Anthony Shahid in response to the demand that the case be reopened.

“Anytime you know somebody that’s guilty, but because of White privilege he walks around like he’s innocent. Getting all type of funds, from all kinds of people and all types of support from the White community, it’s music to my ears to hear Brother Mike Brown say that he wants to open up the investigation,” said the St. Louis-based activist.

“A lot of people would have threw in the towel, but this brother is a fighter. He’s fighting for the liberation of his son and his son is still speaking from the grave. His son is speaking from the grave right now as we speak,” he added.

The county prosecutor should “double look. Because he was out here. He might be the prosecutor now, but he wasn’t the prosecutor then. He knows what’s happening. He knows how he got to be the alderman. He knows how he got to that position. He knows how he got to the position of prosecutor. All of this he was feeling that (justice was needed) then.  Now, since he’s in office, why should he change that? Now, he’s in a better position to help push what he thought five years ago today,” said Mr. Shahid.

“So now he’s in position, which is the best position for us, where he can look at the paperwork. He can go investigate it the way it’s supposed to be investigated. He can come back and tell us it’s 100 percent or it ain’t.  As a matter of fact, it should be the main thing he wants to do.”

Civil rights attorney Anthony Gray, who is based in nearby St. Louis, worked with the family, and helped resolve the family’s civil claims following the death of Mike Jr., believes there is reason to look into the case.

“I’m not sure of the likelihood of that happening but I do think it was a reasonable request. And as he (Mike, Sr.) stated, the prosecutor doesn’t owe us anything but to do the job of the prosecutor. And we’re hoping that part of that job would involve him reexamining the facts and giving some consideration to reopening the case,” said Atty. Gray.

He argued there is “ample evidence to suggest that what Darren Wilson did that day constituted cold blooded murder, and the evidence is there.  The mere fact that Mike was unarmed is the biggest piece of that. When you have an armed Black man, no one disputes that, that’s riddled with bullets by a police officer, that puts the burden on them.”

Mike Brown, Sr., flanked by family members, community leaders and those who have loved ones to police violence, calls for reopening investigation of his son’s death.

“I think now this prosecutor brings credibility to the table and for most open-minded observers, he’s the kind of person that you can feel like you’re going to get a balanced shake from and that tends to bring some confidence to the system of justice in St. Louis. So, whatever happens, happens; but I think that balance now has changed a little bit.”

While protests may not determine the outcome of a process because protestors aren’t making the decision, getting involved is important, said Atty. Gray. “None of us are pulling the lever. Nobody that’s protesting is writing the report. So, all we can do is through our voice, through our protests, is influence those righteously to do what’s right when they do have a hand in that.”

Belief that past prosecutorial actions were unjust or skewed can change and outcomes can change, he continued. “See, when nobody’s looking at you, human nature sometimes if you got a bad human nature, you tend to try to get away with stuff. But when the spotlight is on you, through the protests, through the calls for justice, you’re marching and you know eyes are on you, a lot of times you govern yourself differently,” he said.

Since Mr. Wilson was never charged, the case could be reopened to consider murder charges, which have no statute of limitations.