Tag Archive: michael brown

  1. For the Love of God

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    Pastor Carlton Lee, who lived in Ferguson, Missouri, as a kid, is the Brown’s family pastor. His church, Flood Christian Church, was burned down during the riots following the decision of the Michael Brown court case. He was at Yale as the keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Let Us Break Bread Together. In his interview with WKND, Pastor Lee showed photos of flaming buildings, lifted his jeans to reveal rubber bullet marks and recounted grim anecdotes that portrayed Ferguson realistically, yet with infectious hope for the future.

    Q: Can you tell me a little about your background? Did you always want to be a pastor? What obstacles did you face in becoming a pastor?

    A: I never wanted to be a pastor. I grew up in the church. I actually really wanted to go into theater. And then, all of a sudden, maybe when I got older, I was like, “Mmm, this is not for me.” I like doing plays here and there, but memorizing lines never worked well for me. But that’s what I wanted to do. My mom suggested, “You really need to be a lawyer.” And I’m like, “No, Mom, I really don’t like school like that.” But my background is education, believe it or not, go figure, the guy who does not like school. But you know, I don’t get involved in school in that I’m a teacher, but I do love being around kids. I love helping kids.

    Q: So, you have four kids — how does Christianity influence the way you talk about race to your children? What do you want them to learn about it?

    A: Well, number one, I never want them to get any type of hate in their heart. I tried to shelter my kids from seeing the news at home, because it showed so much, but it didn’t really work out that well because my oldest son is 12. Someone came up to him and said he saw his dad on the news. So, when he found out what happened, my 12-year-old son started to get real angry. And I told him, “Man, we don’t hate. We don’t hate them; we still love them. It’s my love of Christ. God gets up on the cross and says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

    Q: A lot of news sites have recorded you saying you believe it was white supremacists who caused the fire. Why do you believe that? Why do you think they did that?

    A: Well, we received so many death threats, 70-plus. Three weeks prior we had someone show up to the church and say, “I will kill all of you niggers, throw you all in the church and set you on fire.”  Also, three weeks before the church fire, my dog was poisoned. A six-month-old pit bull, fully trained. We had to put her to sleep because she bled out.

    Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but other news sites are reporting that Flood Christian Church [Lee’s church] was three miles outside the downtown city of Ferguson, where most of the violence was taking place.

    A: That’s incorrect, it wasn’t three miles outside of Ferguson. Ferguson is only a stone’s throw away. It would be like the equivalent of right here [the Study Hotel] to [Battell Chapel], where I did the speech. The thing is, there was a police barricade blocking any way to get there. I was having problems getting to my church because of the streets [being] blocked off. So how the hell did someone get there? That was my question for the longest time: How did someone get there? And it just so happened that a police officer passed, saw some chairs in my church on fire, and was like, “Holy crap, they have set this dude’s church on fire.” And he called me and said, “Get your tail down here right now.”  And I said, “No man, I’m out here trying to put out fires.”  I was literally trying to run in and put out fires with my coat.

    [Later] I was beating the hell out of the looters who came up to mom-and-pop stores. Listen, I can’t protect these big businesses. They’re fine — they have better insurance policies that will cover them, but these mom-and-pop stores that are struggling? Come on, guys, chill out with that. They broke in to a cleaners, and stole all of the clothes from the cleaners. They broke in to an auto-tire store and drove off with a car. It was that kind of stuff; it was just that crazy.

    Q: What is your congregation doing to support a positive environment after the events that have happened?

    A: We still continue to do our weekly outreach events. We go out and feed the hungry. We minister the people in the community. We’re still doing those things. People know our church is a safe place.

    Q: For those in your congregation, you preach non-violence. Yet some people in Ferguson have been violent, and that’s what a lot of the media covers. In what ways do you encourage non-violence?

    A: Number one, here’s the thing — it’s not as violent as the news is making it. They made it seem like there were just a million people out there [rallying]. No, there’s only a handful of people. On the night of the decision in Ferguson, there probably were about 15,000 to 20,000 people. Not even 10 percent, less than five percent of people that were [there were] causing violence. The majority of people were standing against it. What we teach at the church is, in order to keep acting in a non-violent way, don’t put your hands on anybody. My verbal approach has to be that of love. I can disagree with you all day long, but I can still do it in love.

    Let me tell you, the movie “Selma” was like a fairytale compared to what we had to go through in Ferguson. The crap we went through in Ferguson, it was some serious, serious stuff. There was a police officer one time, she was so scared. She stood and she was shaking. I said “Ma’am, I can tell you’re very afraid, have them move you to the back of the line.” And she stood there with her riot stick: a wooden stick, with a metal piece inside of it. I said again, “Ma’am, you’re very afraid, and these guys over here can see that you’re afraid, move to the back.” She wouldn’t move to the back. So I called the captain over and I said, “Hey, do me a favor, and move her to the back.” He asked what was going on, and I said that she is very afraid and these guys are looking at her like savage dogs, and they want to get you guys, and they probably are going to go for her first. He moved her to the back.

    Q: At a church service, Rev. Al Sharpton was quoted by the Washington Post saying, “What happened Monday was just a comma, not the end of a sentence.”  What do you think we need to do to get to the end of the sentence, and what does the end of that sentence look like?

    A: We have a list of several demands we have requested. The Michael Brown Law, which consists of all police officers in the state of Missouri having to wear body cameras — body cameras that they’re not able to turn off. They also have to spend some time out of their car. We’re not asking them to stand outside when it’s cold outside. What we are saying is to spend some time outside your car, in the schools and spending time in the community.  We are asking for a civilian review board [with the power to subpoena officers]. In most police forces, the state has taken over. We’re saying that’s okay, but let us be a review board with some power to make suggestions that go into place. Also, we’re asking if there’s a shooting, a special prosecutor be brought in. The prosecutor has been there for 24 years, he’ll be there for another four years. The police and prosecuting attorney, they’re in bed together all the time. How does that make sense?

    Q: A while ago, there was a protest in New Haven about the Michael Brown decision. There was woman in the street who got a loudspeaker and said something along the lines of, “I don’t care if you see me on the street and think I’m a slut, think I’m a whore, or judge me for my skin color. The problem is when you shoot me for it.”   What I’m trying to get at is, do you think it is just about the way officers are trained, or is it a deeper social issue that needs to be addressed before we can see progress in this area? Is it just body cameras?  Or is it the inequality underlying it all?

    A: It really boils down to equality. Black kid, white kid, Asian kid, a life is a life. I am a pastor, these are my regular clothes, and I get pulled over and harassed by the police all the time. My wife asks all the time, “Why do they pull you over so much?” It’s not because I’m doing anything bad; we’re just not treated fairly. Treat us fair, that’s all we’re asking for. I got arrested, arrested for walking on the sidewalk. I told the police office, “You got to be the dumbest person ever. You’re really arresting me, for walking on the sidewalk?” My younger brother, who is 17, will pull out of my parents’ driveway and gets pulled over all the time. Everything on their car is legal, but he gets pulled over all the time.

    Q: As a pastor, how do you get through to well-meaning sympathizers who can’t grasp what it’s like to be a minority facing discrimination?

    A: You know what I tell them to do? Because I’ve done this several times in the last couple of weeks. I tell them, simply, to hang out with me for a day. Literally, hang out with me for a day, and you will see the life. It’s a different type of life we live almost. A white guy told me [about] white privilege, and I asked him to explain it to me. He said, “If I drive drunk, I get a ticket. If you drive drunk, you get your tail beat and go to jail.” Then he said, “If we were walking down the street together, holding the same things, wearing the same thing, both our hands in our pockets, you would fit the profile of a suspect or criminal. Me? I’m the guy that’s going to be the victim.”  Then he told me, “How many times have you walked across the street and people start doing octopus-arms: grabbing and holding their things close to them. And locking their doors.”  I told him I never paid attention to that, but it happens quite often.

    Q: What do you want Michael Brown to be remembered by?

    A: He was a martyr. He was a martyr for social justice.

    This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

  2. What does Ferguson mean?

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    There was silence.

    Dignified, mournful, resolved silence. Yale community members, from freshmen to faculty, stood up from their seats in seminars, lectures and meals across campus at 12:01 p.m. on Monday. They walked out in tens, and then hundreds, onto Cross Campus. The attendees, who gathered before Sterling Memorial Library, were from many demographic groups.

    There was no yelling, there were no screams.  A powerful resonance rang in the air, punctuated only by exclamations of hope.

    “It is our duty to fight for our freedom … we have nothing to lose but our chains,” said Alexandra Barlow ’17 to a crowd of roughly 300.

    Barlowe quoted Assata Shakur, a freedom fighter in the 60s and 70s. After the rally on Cross Campus, students marched to City Hall to demand justice.

    The Black Student Alliance at Yale with support from members of the Afro-American Cultural House organized the event — Hands Up Walk Out — in response to a recent grand jury decision that shook the black community at Yale and across the world.



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    On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old teenager, was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was black. Wilson was white.

    On Aug. 20, 12 grand jurors assembled to adjudicate whether to indict Wilson for a crime. In the American judicial system, a grand jury has the power to indict defenders by evaluating the “probable cause” behind a crime. To indict Wilson, nine of the 12 jurors would have had to agree that enough evidence existed to bring him to trial. They did not.

    On Nov. 24, it was announced that the grand jury elected not to indict Wilson on any charges.

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    “It was one of those situations where you will always remember where you were when you heard the news,” said Dara Huggins ’17, a black psychology major concentrating on law and social justice.

    Huggins said that she had been following the case since day one, like many in the black community. That night, she was at the movies watching “The Hunger Games.”

    “I knew it would be coming out at 9 p.m., so as soon as I came out of the film, I was constantly refreshing the feed,” she said.

    When she saw the verdict, Huggins stopped in her tracks, in the middle of the street. Her heart dropped.

    Travis Reginal ’16 was having dinner with his girlfriend’s family when the announcement came on the television. The complex case became one of the first discussions he had with her family.

    Following the Ferguson decision, many Yale students came together in their concern for the grand jury’s verdict. A majority of students interviewed said that they were upset but not surprised.

    David Rico ’16, who goes by Campfire David and who is of Native American descent, noted that he has experienced many negative interactions with the police, possibly due to his ethnicity.

    “I do not know the African-American experience, or what it is like to be an African-American in this country, I just know how it feels to be discriminated against from the police,” he said.

    Rico gave the example of the disrespect he was shown when policemen approached him while he stood outside, phoning his parents. The police did not believe he was a Yale student.

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    Yale student groups have taken to social media to raise awareness about the issue. On Wednesday, the Yale College Black Men’s Union released “To My Unborn Son,” showcasing black-and-white photos of members holding whiteboard signs with messages to their future sons.

    “To my unborn son, the world is not yet ready for you, so I will hold you close and make it ready to love you,” reads one. Another simply says, “To my unborn son, I love you.”

    The Afro-American Cultural Center has also played a crucial role in shaping the campus response, providing an open space for grieving and reflection.

    “All it takes when something like this happens is an email to someone as opposed to reaching out and having to start a relationship. You have hung out with them, had study breaks and also had conversations about police brutality before it happens,” said Micah Jones ’16, president of the Black Student Alliance at Yale.

    “I am impressed with Yale’s response … It sends a good positive message about unity,” said President of the Greater New Haven Branch of the NAACP Dori Dumas.

    Dumas said that she was impressed with Yalies’ eagerness to work with the New Haven community to protest and emphasized that she did not think that Yale voices would drown out the experience of black New Haven residents.

    “[I like] the idea that people are really wanting to engage these really complicated issues and are trying to do it in a public forum — that’s what a university should be about,” said Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway.

    Still, Yale students are not of one mind. Some aren’t sure that the grand jury’s decision was unreasonable, or that the shooting was necessarily a matter of race.

    Adelaide Goodyear ’17, a white student, agreed that racism plagues relations between the police and the black community, but said that the decision “is not about getting away with murder — it’s that it’s hard to find evidence in cases like this.”

    Goodyear explained that the grand jury’s verdict was not an assessment of guilt, but an evaluation of the available evidence. She added that although Michael Brown’s death was a clear case of police misconduct, murder charges require large amounts of evidence to go to trial.

    Christopher Taylor ’18, who is also white, agreed with Goodyear, saying, “This is definitely a problem with legal procedure.” He noted that police brutality against blacks is a large problem but that police officers are rarely indicted by grand juries.

    Other students went further, noting that Brown’s death may not have been motivated by race.

    “I think that people overreach and think that it’s an act of ‘the system yet again’ … A lot of people, especially at Yale, don’t even consider that there might not have been probable cause,” said a right-leaning independent student who wished to remain anonymous. “They think they know more than they do.”

    Beckett Lee ’18, who is white and identifies as conservative, called for students to remember Wilson’s humanity. He added that police officers are killed on duty more than people realize and that Wilson could have been in survival mode.

    “It is almost impossible for a human being to weigh all of the potential ramifications of what they are going to do,” he said of the shooting.

    Still, students holding views sympathetic to Wilson appear to be in the minority.

    Goodyear suggested that policemen wear cameras to provide evidence in ambiguous cases. Goodyear’s suggestion echoes that of Brown’s family.

    However, the Eric Garner decision — in which a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer who, in a videotaped encounter, killed a black man in a chokehold — on Wednesday prompted many students to question why no action was taken, even with what they described as clear evidence.

    Yale students will continue to question the Brown and Garner decisions. Three separate events are scheduled for today — a die-in at the law school, an artistic demonstration on Beinecke Plaza and a #ThisEndsToday event on the New Haven Green.

    “My brother is turning 20 next month, which means that he is solidifying his presence in a demographic of young black men between the ages of 19-25 in the United States who are disproportionately targeted by police brutality,” Karleh Wilson ’16 explained. “I worry about [my brother’s] safety under the hands of the law. My brother should feel safe among the presence of policemen, but he does not, and this is the same for all men of color his age in America.”