The Parents Of Trayvon Martin And Jordan Davis Are Helping Michael Brown’s Family Cope

The families of unarmed black teenagers who died in high-profile cases have come to support and rely on one another.

Michael Brown Sr. yells out as the casket is lowered during the funeral service for his son Michael Brown in Normandy, Missouri, Monday, Aug. 25. AP Photo/New York Times, Richard Perry

It’s been over a month since 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson, and the Brown family have questions but few answers. Weeks ago, their attorneys filed a request for more information on Wilson’s police career, but they’re still waiting for it. A grand jury has convened in St. Louis County, but won’t decide whether to indict Wilson for at least another month or longer.

The slow movement of the case has the family questioning whether the public really gets what happened. “People really don’t understand that she lost her son,” Eric Davis said of his cousin, Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother.

Black families thrust into the media spotlight by the death of a loved one are forced to relive their loss over and over, both in court and in the public eye. They have few places to turn for solace and support, other than one another.

“There hasn’t been any real improvement [in Lesley],” said Davis, who visits McSpadden either at her home or her mother’s house every day after work. “We are still looking for answers. We don’t have answers as to anything about the officer, which is really really preventing us from moving on.”

The Brown family is not alone. Tracy Martin’s son Trayvon was gunned down by a man claiming self-defense in 2012, in an episode that captivated the country and cleaved it along racial lines. Among some supporters of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot the younger Martin but was acquitted of murder, school troubles and adolescent drug use became retroactive justifications for Trayvon Martin’s death.

Tracy Martin has become the unofficial leader of an exclusive club no parent would ever want to join: the black families who have to find a way to recover from their loss even as they navigate a complex legal system and watch their loved ones tried in the court of public opinion. Martin said he speaks with Michael Brown Sr. “every 10 days or so” since Michael Jr. was killed.

If you ask Tracy Martin what similarities he sees in the trials Brown’s family is now dealing with to his own experience after his son was killed, the number 44 comes to mind. It represents the number of days before Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was eventually charged with his death.

“It was 44 days before we got an arrest. And I still think it should have been an arrest on day one, hour one,” Martin said of Zimmerman. “It’s just unfair to the family to have to sit through days and weeks and know that the killer of their son is still roaming the streets.”

Unlike what has happened thus far in the case of Michael Brown Jr.’s death, the delay in Zimmerman’s arrest played a key part in Sanford, Florida, Police Chief Bill Lee taking a leave of absence and the first state prosecutor in Zimmerman’s case, Norman Wolfinger, recusing himself.

Following Zimmerman’s arrest, Wolfinger wrote in a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott that he was stepping aside to avoid ” even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

In Ferguson, things have unfolded differently. St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch has repeatedly rebuked calls to recuse himself from the grand jury proceeding that will decide if Wilson is charged. McCulloch’s impartiality has been questioned by critics who charge that the loss of his father, a former police officer, who was killed in the line of duty when McColloch was 12, could prevent him from indicting Wilson. McCulloch’s office did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed for this article.

Attorneys for the Brown family say Michael Brown Sr. and McSpadden’s only updates on the grand jury so far have been what the media reports. Attorney Ben Crump said that McCulloch’s office has made no effort to reach out to Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden during the grand jury proceedings.

Edward Magee, executive assistant to McCulloch, told BuzzFeed News that the prosecutor’s office contacted the family’s attorney initially and offered victims assistance services, which they declined.

Brown family attorney Anthony Gray said that after that initial call, McCulloch’s office never reached out to offer any sympathy for the family and they have not gotten day-to-day updates on the grand jury.

“I think the family respects the process. But they’re losing respect as the process drags on,” Gray said. “They’re at a complete loss as to why it takes so much time.”

“There is somewhat of a disconnect with the prosecutor’s office when the victims are young black males. I just think they cannot relate to the black males’ lives having value,” Crump said. “They are just so used to prosecuting young black men. This prosecutor isn’t even trying to make an attempt to demonstrate to the family that they are there for the victims, no matter who they are or what race they are.”

Sybrina Fulton (left) and Tracy Martin, parents of Trayvon Martin, speak at the Peace Fest rally in St. Louis, Missouri, on Aug. 24, 2014. Adrees Latif / Via Reuters

When Martin speaks to Brown Sr. though, he doesn’t ask him about the grand jury proceedings or the county prosecutor.

“I tell him I just want to reach out to you and make sure that you’re keeping up with your health,” Martin said. “He told me he was living day by day, taking it one day at a time. One day at a time.”

This week, Martin joined another father whose son was killed by gun violence at the retrial for 17-year-old Jordan Davis’ killer, Michael Dunn. Earlier this year, a jury declared a mistrial in the first-degree murder case against Dunn for Davis’ death.

“I’ll be heading up to Jacksonville to be with Ron Davis,” Martin told BuzzFeed News on Sept. 18. His wife Sybrina Fulton was seen accompanying Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, into the Duval County Courthouse on the first day of jury selection. The judge made a point to ask the family not to interact with demonstrators — some carrying “Justice for Jordan” signs — and disrupt the court.

McBath is waiting to find out if she’ll get more than “partial justice,” as she puts it, in the death of her son Jordan Davis. But it’s likely news won’t come until two years after Davis was shot and killed in a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station parking lot.

On Nov. 23, 2012, Davis, a 17-year-old black teenager, was killed by 47-year-old white man Michael Dunn after an argument over loud music, in which Dunn said he feared Davis had a gun. Dunn’s lawyer argued that Davis’ friends had hidden a gun after the shooting. No gun was ever found, and Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder for Davis’ three friends who were riding in the SUV with him and will serve up to 60 years in prison for the charges. But the jury hung on the charge of murder over Davis’ death.

Ron Davis (second from right) walks to the Duval County Courthouse with wife Carolina as Lucia McBath walks holding the hand of Sybrina Fulton before the start of the retrial of Michael Dunn on Monday, Sept. 22. AP / Florida Times-Union

As McBath prepares for the retrial to start this week, she has to grapple with a public that has largely moved on, believing justice has been served.

“A lot of people believe that Michael Dunn has been convicted and is in jail permanently,” McBath said. “But no, he hasn’t been convicted for Jordan’s murder.”

Last month, McBath contemplated going to Ferguson for Brown’s funeral, but decided to attend a hearing for Dunn instead. Ron Davis attended the services in St. Louis.

“I just sent a big floral wreath — I actually saw it on TV and was like, oh, there are my flowers. And I wrote the family a private letter,” McBath said.

McBath said that she and Davis’ father were lucky to have the time to heal privately that Michael Brown’s parents have not. “We were very blessed to have a private funeral. We didn’t have all the celebrities and VIPs there,” McBath said. “We fought hard for that.”

McBath and Davis managed to keep the media across the street from the church where the funeral was held and a few blocks away from the funeral home — far enough so that they wouldn’t block mourners.

But McBath said Brown’s parents won’t have that time to grieve like she had because “the consciousness of the country won’t allow them to.”

What’s next for McSpadden and Brown Sr. is deciding what role they want to take on in the aftermath. McBath said that Brown’s family will repeatedly get this question: What are you going to do about all this? But, she said, it is important for them to decide themselves.

“I have organizations calling me all the time that I haven’t heard much about. They call and they want me to show my face. First thing I say is call my assistant and send us your agenda, we want to know who you are,” McBath said. She has recently taken on the role of national spokesperson for the gun control group Moms Demand Action. “And then when I don’t get any of that, I recognize that these aren’t viable organizations. That will happen to them a lot.”

Two days before jury selection started in Dunn’s trial, McBath appeared alongside Michael Brown Sr. at a “No Guns Allowed: Fallout from Ferguson” breakfast hosted by Snoop Dogg, the League of Young Voters, Cashmere Agency, HandsUp United and AllHipHop in her hometown of Atlanta. McBath spoke about the importance of voter registration to the group, which included young people brought in from Ferguson called the Lost Voices who had participated in the protests following Brown’s death. Snoop Dogg, also in town to host the BET Hip-Hop Awards that night, made a brief appearance, much to the delight of the young people from Ferguson in attendance. “I think he was damn near late for the rehearsal the day of the show,” said Robert “Biko” Baker, Executive Director of the League of Young Voters and one of the organizers of the event.

Baker said Brown Sr., who spoke “intentionally very short,” was inspired by the group that came from Ferguson because of the need to go back to Missouri and keeping fighting.

“I appreciate all the support. I love y’all. I love y’all, I do not want this to happen to anyone else,” Brown said. “Nobody. No country, especially not here again. But I do respect all of y’all for the support.”

“I can tell from his body language where he’s at. His family is just wrapped around all this,” Baker said.

McBath said she hopes that Michael Brown’s parents overcome the feelings of frustration, anger, and emptiness that have accompanied her since her son was killed.

“Knowing that you feel like this is supposed to be a country that’s justice for all, and sometimes there’s justice for some and not justice for others,” McBath said. “I know exactly how helpless they feel.”

Lesley McSpadden reacts during the funeral services for her son Michael Brown at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Pool / Reuters

When Eric Davis goes to visit his cousin at night she talks about the good times too. And it’s apparent that Davis hopes that one day the family can share stories about how they preserved Michael Brown Jr.’s memory by navigating a winding and uncertain road to justice.

“[Lesley] talks about when he would come up from playing video games and say, ‘Mom, how you doing? You mad at me?'” Davis said. “She talks about when they were skating. Michael wasn’t really graceful on the skates and [Lesley] was trying to hold him up. He kept falling. They were laughing and joking about that. But more than anything, she has those times when she is upset, she’s sad, and she wants to have answers to those questions. I just tell her we have to remain the course. We have to stay vigilant.”

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikehayes/the-parents-of-trayvon-martin-and-jordan-davis-are-helping-m

I Sought Solace In My Bookshelf

Amidst protests against police brutality, Daniel José Older returns to a favorite novel and explores the misreading of rage.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

Two weeks ago, marching through the streets with a thousand other people, our open hands raised to the nighttime skyscrapers, I thought of Oscar Wao. Across the country, protesters shut down bridges and highways and raised a collective voice of dissent, which the media quickly simplified into a rage-filled sound bite and simulcasted across the world over images of cop cars burning in the streets of Ferguson.

Toward the end of Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Oscar marches through a cane field to what he’s sure will be his death. He sends telepathic messages of love to his mom, his tío, his sister Lola, and all the women he ever loved: “Olga, Maritza, Ana, Jenni, Karen, and all the other ones whose names he’d never known — and of course to Ybón.”

On Nov. 24, prosecutor Bob McCulloch told the world that the broad-daylight murder of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown didn’t warrant so much as a trial. The same day, Marissa Alexander began her prison sentence for firing a warning shot while defending herself from domestic abuse. Policemen had killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice the Saturday before and Akai Gurley the week before that. Last Tuesday, a grand jury here in New York decided that Eric Garner’s death by strangulation at the hands of the New York Police Department also wasn’t worth a trial. Before that it was Ramarley Graham, Rekia Boyd, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, all unarmed, and many, many more. The U.S. judicial system has made it clear that blackness itself is a capital offense and doesn’t deserve the benefit of a trial.

And now let’s draw lines. As two of the original organizers of the Black Lives Matter Freedom Rides, Patrisse Cullors and Darnell L. Moore write: “We could not allow Ferguson to be portrayed as an aberration in America: it must remain understood as a microcosm of the effects of anti-black racism.” And indeed, the tentacles of this deep-seated anti-blackness are woven into the DNA of the American dream. We see it in law enforcement, politics, the media, social justice movements, non-black communities of color, science, and, of course, literature. On Nov. 19, the night before police killed unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn stairwell, Daniel Handler made his racist watermelon quip toward Jacqueline Woodson as he presented her with a National Book Award. It was interpersonal anti-blackness that led him to make such a statement. Institutional anti-blackness had his back. Neither NPR nor the New York Times bothered to mention it in their coverage of the award ceremony. The Times called his performance “edgy and entertaining.” The National Book Foundation itself didn’t apologize until a few days of continued social media outcry. Prominent members of the publishing community posted blogs in sympathy with Handler, while many others simply remained silent.

“This mission is what’s been passed down to me –” Jacqueline Woodson writes in her essay responding to the watermelon joke, “to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of.” The publishing industry, which by its own count is 1% black and 3% Latino, dropped the ball once again, and writers and readers of color rolled our eyes and cycled between outrage and not even being surprised. Woodson’s essay contextualizes the joke perfectly: In 2014, people of color are still struggling to see ourselves in literature. As BuzzFeed’s own Ashley Ford writes, “Brown girls everywhere know what it means to choke with invisible hands at their throats, to drown with water nowhere in sight. For us, a book like [Woodson’s] Brown Girl Dreaming is air itself.”

In this case, overwhelming silence in the face of explicit racism was the institutional wink and nod: the go-ahead. The same wink and nod, though much more lethal, could be seen in the refusal of grand juries and prosecutors to investigate the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The institutional go-ahead, be it in publishing or the court system, amounts to an abusive, racialized deprivation of human rights. It is violence. But in the upside-down anti-poetry of power, violence becomes simply an act, a momentary physical explosion, the culminating event. And so, in the midst of a historically rooted, state-sanctioned attack on black lives, everyone from the president to the very police department responsible for Michael Brown’s death has demanded protesters avoid violence. This is like a pyromaniac telling a fireman not to smoke a cigarette.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

Thinking of the many fucked up flavors of violence, my whole body thrumming with rage and sorrow, I sought solace in my bookshelf. It took a little while to find — so many sugarcoat and simplify; they tiptoe and coddle when we need books that break-dance and tell hard truths. Gradually, voices emerged: Baldwin and Butler and Morrison. John Murillo’s “Enter the Dragon.” And, of course, Oscar Wao.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a book you devour slowly. You savor each bite because you’re not sure what the world will look like when it’s done. When I first read it in 2007, it was a revelation: a promise written in unflinching poetic vernacular that we can speak complex literary truths without translating ourselves or over-explaining or condescending to the lowest common denominator. It lit a fire under my ass, so many of our asses, that propelled us down the road to becoming writers.

In the canefield, Oscar tells the gunmen that they were going to take a great love out of the world. “Love is a rare thing,” Oscar says as he raises his hands, “easily confused with a million other things.” Michael Brown raised his hands too, but he wasn’t given the benefit of last words.

It is easy to misread rage as hate. This week, as chants of “Black lives matter” echoed once more through the streets of New York, Ferguson, Los Angeles and out into the world, all I could think of was love. Maybe, before he died, Michael thought of love too. And maybe that thought telegraphed brightly across this country, woke us up, rustled us out into the streets as one, loving, rage-filled outcry. As Oscar said, “on the other side…anything you can dream…you can be.”

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieljoseolder/it-is-easy-to-misread-rage-as-hate

Our 9 Favorite Feature Stories This Week: Dirty Cops, Michael Brown Sr., And A Whole Lot Of Elvis

This week for BuzzFeed News, Elise Jordan goes back to her hometown Mississippi to visit the world’s most notorious Elvis shrine. Read that and these other great stories from BuzzFeed and around the web.

1. The Last Days Of Graceland Too — BuzzFeed News

Photograph by Tim Soter

Paul MacLeod’s Graceland Too — a house-turned-shrine to the King of Rock ‘n Roll — ushered in decades of tourism to the small town of Holly Springs, MS and made its eccentric owner a local celebrity. But when MacLeod shot his handyman dead at the property and died himself two days later, Graceland Too came to symbolize more than an innocuous hobby. Read it at BuzzFeed News.

2. America’s Dirtiest Cops: Cash, Cocaine and Corruption on the Texas BorderRolling Stone

Illustration by John Ritter, Image of Alexis Espinoza in illustration by Gabe Hernandez/”The Monitor” / AP Images

An unbelievable romp of a story by Josh Eells on the rise and downfall of the Panama Unit, an elite anti-narcotics border task force — led by the son of a sheriff — that took bribes from some drug dealers and used police resources to rob others. “They were running around like that movie Training Day.” Read it at Rolling Stone.

3. Michael Brown Sr. and the Agony of the Black Father in AmericaEsquire

Photograph by Barrett Emke for Esquire

John H. Richardson spends a heartbreaking, yet hopeful, Thanksgiving with the Brown family, as Mike Brown, Sr. reflects on his son, goes to church, and grapples with his new life in the public eye. “At one point, he lowers his head and hides his face under his hat brim. When he lifts his head again, his face looks exhausted and stoic and agonized, like a man determined not to cry out under torture.” Read it at Esquire.

4. Construction Work is Getting More Deadly, but Only for Latinos — BuzzFeed News

Staten Island Advance / SILive / Via silive.com

While construction work has gotten safer for every other group over the past decade, the deaths of Latino workers has been on the rise. David Noriega reports on the startling trend. Read it at BuzzFeed News.

5. The Town Without Wi-FiWashingtonian

Photograph by Joshua Cogan for Washingtonian

Green Bank, West Virginia is a town where residents are banned from using technology most of us can’t imagine living without: wi-fi, cell phones, Bluetooth. It’s become a haven for people who believe their medical problems stem from electromagnetism but, as Michael J. Gaynor explores, not all the locals are happy about it. Read it at Washingtonian.

6. Chris Harrison: The Reigning King of #BachelorNationGQ

PHotograph by Art Streiber for GQ

Taffy Brodesser-Akner hangs out with Chris Harrison, the charming host of The Bachelor, as he navigates having recently become a bachelor himself. “It is hard to believe that a man whose job is to be a human seismometer of romantic chemistry can be so oblivious, but maybe it’s the sort of thing where the cobbler’s children have no shoes, or doctors can’t operate on themselves.” Read it at GQ.

7. The Rise of the Black British Actor in America — BuzzFeed News

Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount Pictures

Lacking opportunities in the UK, many black British actors, such as Selma’s David Oleyowo, have recently found success in the states, writes Kelley Carter. “There’s a black British Actor Renaissance of sorts occurring, largely because black Brits aren’t finding the type of work in the United Kingdom that allows them to explore the depth they’re seeking from their roles.” Read it at BuzzFeed News.

8. Food Fight: Dallas Chefs Take on the Morning NewsD Magazine

Photograph by Kevin Marple for D Magazine

Zac Crain dives into the embittered battle that has been publicly stewing for the past year between a top Dallas food critic and the city’s best chefs. “It was like watching Frankenstein and seeing the townspeople head up to the professor’s operating room with pitchforks and torches.” Read it at D Magazine.

9. The Talking CureThe New Yorker

Illustration by Leo Espinosa for the New Yorker

Margaret Talbot visits Providence, Rhode Island, where the mayor has secured millions for an innovative program aimed at closing the “word gap,” the disparity in words learned by poorer children compared to their wealthier counterparts. The program is just one complex example of national efforts to tackle educational reform. Read it at The New Yorker.

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