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Michael Brown Sr. comes to Pitt to honor his son's legacy

The Pitt News

Michael Brown honors son at Pitt

Michael+Brown+spoke+in+the+William+Pitt+Union+Wednesday+night.+Meghan+Sunners+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer.
Michael Brown spoke in the William Pitt Union Wednesday night. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer.

Michael Brown spoke in the William Pitt Union Wednesday night. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer.

Michael Brown spoke in the William Pitt Union Wednesday night. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer.

By Alyssa Bessasparis / For The Pitt News

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Before he said a single word about his son, Michael Brown’s father asked his audience to close their eyes.

Imagine tragically losing a loved one, he said.

“How you just felt,” Michael Brown Sr. said. “That is how I feel every day.”

Standing at the front of the Assembly Room in the William Pitt Union, Brown Sr. wore a T-shirt printed with his son’s name and birthdate. On Wednesday, his son would have been 20 years old.

Just two years after losing his son to a police officer’s bullet, Brown Sr. shared his story of loss and his hope for change with Pitt students — many of whom are the age Michael Brown was when he was killed.

The Pitt Program Council hosted Brown Sr., who honored his son’s legacy and encouraged people of all races to come together, against violence, to understand one another.  

The event drew more than 400 students, as well as John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock.

According to his father, Brown was an average teenage boy. He was interested in music, the latest phones and playing pranks on his parents. But on Aug. 9, 2014, his son would catapult from an average teenager to being the spark of a national dialogue about race and police brutality.

The day of his son’s death, Brown Sr. said he left work at 11:30 a.m. after a call from Brown’s grandmother saying, “Mike is in the street, dead.”

Brown Sr. said by the time he got to his son, he was covered in a white sheet, where he remained, burning in the 98 degree heat for four-and-a-half hours. Brown Sr. said he was never given the opportunity to identify his son’s body.

The story of what happened that August day is well known now. Police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown outside a Ferguson, Missouri, apartment complex. He had been accused of stealing from a convenience store. He was unarmed. He was shot 12 times.

He was also killed two days before he was set to start classes at Vatterott College.

Then, his death sparked national outrage, with protests in Ferguson and around the United States, including on Pitt’s campus. Since Brown’s death, there have been numerous protests in relation to other killings, such as the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Eric Garner. The killings caused media outlets like the Washington Post and The Guardian to start projects to track police shootings and other killings in the United States.

Yet after all of the unrest, Brown Sr. said he does not hate police.

“I hate the decisions some of them make. It is hard to see who is for you and who is not, but they’re not all bad,” he said.

Brown Sr. said police officers need to get back to the days when they knew the names of, and would play with, the children jumping rope and playing basketball in the streets and their parents. Had his son been a different race, Brown Sr. imagines the police may have approached him differently.

“[Black people] are being targeted,” Brown Sr. said. “We are under attack, and it seems our rights are out the window.”

In July, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay spoke at the Democratic National Convention about his local and national efforts to reduce police violence and improve the relationship between police officers and residents, particularly members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brown Sr. spoke on behalf of his foundation, Michael Brown Chosen For Change, which supports the fathers of young people slain in the face of police brutality, such as he and Oscar Grant’s father. Oscar Grant was fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police in Oakland, California, on Dec. 31, 2009.

“When tragedy happens, mothers are more often catered to,” Brown Sr. said. “Fathers have a voice too.”

Mamadou Ndiaye, a member of Pitt’s Black Action Society and a first-year graduate student in international development, said it is hard to fathom the impact of Brown’s death on his community and his family.

“The family perspective is missed a lot,” Ndiaye said. “What we hear in the news, social media and word of mouth is demoralizing. Another death from police brutality often becomes just another hashtag.”

Aminata Kamara, the president of BAS, said it was refreshing to have someone with first-hand knowledge of police brutality come to campus and give insight on what the families go through, rather than only having funny, happy and entertaining speakers come.

“From 2014 to now, if you ask people what has changed in terms of the country’s racial climate, most will say nothing is different,” Kamara said. “It just seems that there are more victims of police brutality.”

In the days following his son’s death, Brown Sr. said he found himself waking up angry, but did not want to disrespect his son with his frustration. Rather, he wanted to honor his son by serving his community.

“I try to keep my mind in a safe place,” Brown Sr. said. “I try to show love to black, white, Latino, Chinese –– all of them. I want to open the eyes of the world from my pain. Ignorance and hate doesn’t have a color on it. Color don’t tell me what your heart is saying.”

For others trying to make positive changes in their communities, Brown Sr. said individuals must try to surround themselves with people who are trying to move forward and make changes, while being wary of those that may have their own agendas.

“We’re going to ride his legacy to the end,” Brown Sr. said. “Til my casket drops. One little spark of negativity can hurt people if they are hurting deep down inside. That’s why you gotta watch the company you keep.”

Since his son’s death, Brown Sr. said the Ferguson community has been destroyed. It has become a tourist city where Brown’s life ended and nothing else. Even while living in a broken community, Brown Sr. strives to find hope in his son’s misfortune.

“Even if Mike Brown don’t get justice, he’s helping other families get justice,” Brown Sr. said. “My son will always be remembered as a soldier to me.”

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper
Michael Brown honors son at Pitt