We are near the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, and the image above is one I have not been able to get out of my mind.
Mike Brown was demonized and characterized as a “thug” who deserved what he got by many following that fateful day last August. Even as he was left lying in the street, the powers that be sought to “undo” him and in effect blame him for his tragic death by pulling up incidents that proved “he was no saint.” The police in Ferguson were more concerned, it seemed, with saving their tails than with dealing with this young man and giving him in death the respect they had not given him in life.
Not his father or mother were allowed to touch him as he lay on that hot pavement for hours.
This was their baby. Whatever he had done, he was their baby, their child, and they were not allowed to go near him.
I have to be honest. I cried as I watched this horrific drama unfold. I shook with anger as I listened to the police demonize Mike before they said a word about what happened, and how.
I visited Ferguson, a couple of times. I stood at the makeshift memorial that was constructed on the site where Mike had lain … and it gave me goosebumps.
There were a range of emotions I navigated as I awaited to see this young man finally put to rest. I watched with a mother’s eyes and felt with a mother’s heart as I watched his grief-stricken mother, Lesley McSpadden, enter that church. His father seemed to be holding up…
But he wasn’t. There is something that happens when a child dies; attention is given to the mother and the father is almost completely ignored. I noticed that when as a pastor I saw and attended to women who had lost babies due to miscarriage. The mother was allowed to mourn out loud; the fathers remained stoic.
Michael Brown Sr. looked like he was holding it together on the day his son was buried. I guess I breathed a sigh of relief; my attention then stayed on his mother.
But the tragedy of what this society has done to black men hit me full in the face when I saw this picture of Mike Brown’s father wailing at his grave site.
I realized that this society so marginalizes black men and boys, and is so smug about proclaiming that black fathers are absent, that we do not embrace the humanity of these men who are fathers, who are there for their children …and whose souls are ripped apart when their children are snatched away due to violence – street or police-induced.
Those who wanted to continue the dehumanization and criminalization of Mike Brown continued. They scoffed at the fact that he had gotten through high school and was going to college. They didn’t care. Their only sentiment was that he had brought his death upon himself. He was no saint, they kept saying.
What college-age young man is?
I wondered then, and more so now, if those who wanted to sit in their smugness even bothered to lift their eyes to see the pain of his parents as they talked about him. His mother said he was “sweet,” but those who had demonized him dismissed that claim, as the videotape showed him pushing the store cashier.
What, sweet kids don’t sometimes do dumb stuff? Sweet kids don’t smoke marijuana? Sweet kids don’t “feel their oats” sometimes and do things that are really out of character for them?
Did people see the pain of both parents …including the pain of Mike’s father? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xORC3Kfhw0Y)
I can only imagine the pain that Mike’s parents felt the day they buried him…but the picture of Mike’s father wailing as he sat in front of his son’s coffin said more to me than anything I had read back then …or have read to date.
I remember my friend Joshua DuBois, whose wife is expecting the couple’s first child soon, giving an impassioned statement about how black fathers care. He reminded a nearly all-white gathering that it is wrong to continue carrying the belief that black fathers are absent and do not care about their children. Yes, some are absent …and that would indicate that perhaps they do not care, or cannot care at a given time in their lives.
But black fathers, black men …are human …and love their children every bit as much as a white father. They ache for their children, especially for their sons. They walk around knowing they are moving targets for police officers; they know that their children, again most especially their sons, are targets for street crime as well as for police violence against them.
Black fathers do not rest. They know the terrain and the territory on which their children walk.
The fathers of all these slain young black people are wailing … Society may not see them and may refuse to listen to them, but they are wailing.
Just look at the picture of Mike Brown’s father if you are inclined to disagree. That father’s pain …is palatable …and not isolated just to him.
America, will you ever see?
A candid observation …