Michael Brown’s mother demands justice at international hearing

Michael Brown’s mother demands justice at international hearing

Nearly 10 years after a former Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown Jr., Brown’s mother, his lawyers and activists have taken their mission to seek justice to an international forum.

Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, joined attorneys from the nonprofit Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University in a virtual hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington, D.C. It was the first time the commission held a hearing on an individual case of police brutality in the United States.

In 2014, Darren Wilson, then a Ferguson police officer, shot and killed Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. A grand jury that year declined to indict Wilson, and a Justice Department review concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial.

Four years ago, St. Louis County District Attorney Wesley Bell revisited the case at the request of Brown’s parents. But Bell decided not to file charges against Wilson.

McSpadden told the committee that the Justice Department’s report lacked adequate information about Wilson’s background.

“They used that Justice Department report as a Bible,” said McSpadden, 44. “And it has a lot of holes in it, just like Mike’s body.”

The footage of Wilson leaving Brown’s body on the hot asphalt for more than four hours, without covering it, went viral on social media. It sparked local and national protests that served as a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the largest social justice movements in the United States.

Delia Addo-Yobo, a staff attorney at RFK Human Rights, said Brown’s case was emblematic of widespread police violence against black people in the United States.

“Last year, police killed more people than any other year,” she said. “By taking on Michael’s case, the commission is opening new avenues of justice for those affected by discriminatory and widespread police violence.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, McSpadden said she was disappointed that prosecutors chose not to file charges against Wilson. She recalled talking with prosecutors and telling them about all the good things in her son’s life.

“I was devastated,” McSpadden said. “I was hurt and frustrated. Because I really didn’t understand how they had come to that conclusion. I had lost hope in the justice system.”

She recalled that after her son’s death, the streets were filled with people, many of them parents who said they had suffered similar injustices with McCulloch. Brown’s death has inflamed tensions between police and African-American communities in the area, particularly in St. Louis and north St. Louis County.

The nonprofit Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center first asked the commission to review Brown’s case in 2015. The Justice Department released a report following an investigation of the Ferguson Police Department in March 2015.

The story came full circle in 2022 when the commission determined that the petition raised “colorful allegations that the United States’ failure to hold officers accountable violated rights guaranteed by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.”

“The last decade has proven that our domestic legal frameworks are inadequate and outdated when compared to international human rights standards,” said Wade McMullen, senior vice president of programs and legal strategy at RFK Human Rights. “Having exhausted all U.S. mechanisms for justice, the Brown family now turns to the IACHR to seek accountability for their loved one’s death.”

The commission plans to publish a report on its findings and make recommendations to the U.S. government.

RFK Human Rights and Howard University, which represent the Brown family, have asked the commission to recommend an independent investigation into Brown’s death and a public apology to Brown’s family. They also want the commission to support legislation like the BREATHE Act, which calls for shifting resources away from incarceration and policing and instead allocating funds to building healthier communities.

They are also seeking support for the recently reintroduced Helping Families Heal Act, which would expand mental health services to communities affected by police violence.