“My heart goes out to Michael Brown’s family. I know they are hurting,” Sybrina Fulton told me via e-mail yesterday in reaction to the police killing of the unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., over the weekend. “My family and I continue to pray for them during their darkest hour of burying a child.”
Fulton knows how dark those hours can be. She is the mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old shot and killed by George Zimmerman on a rainy night in Florida two years ago. When I asked her how it felt to have President Obama address her son’s death in the Rose Garden in the days after his death, Fulton said, “It just reinforced our focus that we needed to get busy and we needed to work on some type of way to prevent this from happening to somebody else’s teenager.”
Brown’s mom, Lesley McSpadden, is the latest African American mother whose tear-streaked face forces the nation to remember the name of yet another unarmed black teenager gunned down under questionable circumstances. Martin was deemed a “real suspicious guy” by Zimmerman, then a neighborhood watch volunteer, as he walked back to his father’s girlfriend’s apartment from a convenience store. Brown was shot multiple times by a police officer. Just how many times is a mystery as the police refuse to release that tidbit from Brown’s autopsy. They say that Brown and the officer, who they won’t identify, struggled over the cop’s gun. Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown during the confrontation, gave a completely different version of events on MSNBC last night.
When Obama spoke about Martin, there were peaceful protests demanding the arrest of Zimmerman. Thanks to Florida’s crazy “stand your ground” law, Zimmerman walked free until he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder 44 days later. In the wake of the acts of looting and violence that have marred the largely peaceful protests in Ferguson, the president released a statement yesterday that sought to refocus attention on the very real concerns of those who want justice for Brown.
The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time. As Attorney General [Eric] Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed. I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.
McSpadden has called for calm. Brown’s father and grandfather have done the same. And now the president of the United States, whose voice carries extra weight in the African American community, has weighed in. The sooner their words are heeded by everyone, the sooner we can address the conditions that led to Brown’s shooting and the horrible police response in its wake.
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