Lesley McSpadden is the mother of Michael Brown, the slain Missouri teenager who was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson following an altercation at a convenience store in the suburban St. Louis city in August 2014.
In the wake of the slaying, local and nationwide protests, demonstrations and riots occurred, sparking the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement. Following the Ferguson riots, McSpadden made numerous media appearances, speaking candidly and vocally on her mistrust for police and government officials and advocating reform including the resignation of the Ferguson police chief and mayor and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in addition to the disbanding of the Ferguson police force. She marched on Selma, Alabama in March 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march.
The parents of Michael Brown, a Missouri teen killed by police, testified before a U.N. committee because they want the world to know “what’s going on in Ferguson.” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. spoke to the United Nations Committee Against Torture — which also works against cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities.
“We need the world to know what’s going on in Ferguson and we need justice,” McSpadden told CNN in Geneva, Switzerland.
Gov. Jay Nixon: Protest violence ‘cannot be repeated’
“We need answers and we need action. And we have to bring it to the U.N. so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small town Ferguson.”
Accounts differ as to what led to the August shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer.
As many may remember, McSpadden was featured in Beyoncé’s Lemonade video, holding a picture of her son. The video showed clips of the mothers who had lost their children to the senseless killings at the hands of police brutality.
If you look up “Michael Brown mother arrested for armed robbery” in Google, you will learn that McSpadden was accused of allegedly being involved in an armed robbery of a store a while back. No charges have been laid to McSpadden as of yet, but she has not let any false accusations stand in the way of her advocacy.
Murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer
Midday on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18 year-old black male, was walking down a small street in the middle of an apartment complex with a friend when they were approached by a white police officer. According to his friend, the closest witness to the afternoon’s events, the officer approached them in his SUV police vehicle, told them to “get the [expletive] off the sidewalk,” which then escalated into a confrontation.
After a struggle, the officer began to shoot the teen. Brown ran away, as he was hit by the officer’s bullets. The officer chased the teen on foot, and according to multiple witnesses, even after Michael Brown raised his hands to surrender and begged the officer not to shoot, the officer continued to fire. No witness reported any orders being given to Brown as these shots were fired. As evidenced by audio recordings of the shooting, Officer Wilson fired approximately six bullets, and then after several seconds, fired an additional four times. The teenager was hit by at least six shots according to an autopsy conducted by a pathologist not affiliated with the government. The autopsy further revealed that the final shots included one that entered his eye, and another at the top of the head, which may have indicated his head was lowered as he collapsed or kneeled to surrender.
The intentional, arbitrary killing of Michael Brown, shot to death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, amounts to torture under Article 1 of the Convention.
Following his murder, Michael Brown’s body was left uncovered in the middle of the street that runs through the Canfield Green Apartments, a densely populated apartment complex, for over four hours. This treatment of his body, grotesquely mutilated by the six bullets and left bleeding in the street in plain view, traumatized countless neighbors who witnessed either the shooting, its aftermath, or both. This trauma was all the more intense for Michael Brown’s family, who came to the scene only to find their young son’s remains quickly decomposing on the hot summer street.
Given the history of racial tensions in the city of Ferguson, this particularly disrespectful treatment of Brown’s body and callous disregard for the trauma it could cause Ferguson residents repeated and reinforced the longstanding degrading treatment of black racial minorities by an overwhelmingly white police force. Not only did the abandonment of the body convey to residents that the police officer regarded the black youth as less than human, but it also illustrated the officer’s brazen confidence that he would not be punished for such unwarranted violence. One local leader noted that this action was a message from the police that “we can do this to you any day, any time, in broad daylight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
A local resident shared her belief that these efforts were done to “set an example” and that “they shot a black man, and they left his body in the street to let you all know this could be you.”
The intimidation caused by the shooting of Michael Brown and the disrespect for his body was amplified by the impunity that followed. Officer Wilson has not been arrested, and public officials have shown a clear reluctance to actively pursue his prosecution. The police department incident report drafted following the shooting contains few details about the event, contrary to typical practices, and the veracity of other reports released is dubious.11 Other police statements reportedly contained false justifications for the teen’s murder, including the release of unrelated video footage maligning the victim.
Additionally, the manner in which Darren Wilson’s prosecution has proceeded and the concerning decisions of the prosecutor have raised questions as to government bias in favor of the police. For example, rather than filing a set of potential charges that the grand jury would endorse, as is typical practice, the state prosecutor in this case, Robert McCulloch is allowing the grand jury maximum discretion to decide the appropriate charge. McCulloch is viewed to be biased towards the police because he has “support[ed] police officers in another police misconduct case” and other indications of bias in favor of the police including close family ties to policing.
Of particular concern is the prosecutor’s decision to present every witness and every shred of evidence to the grand jury as the prosecutor’s office receives it, without waiting for county and federal investigations to be completed, as prosecutors typically do. In addition to applying this legal but infrequently used process, the prosecutor has sought an atypical amount of time for the grand jury decision to be announced. Grand jury panels within that jurisdiction usually sit for four months, meeting in private sessions on a weekly basis to hear evidence on cases, but that term for the current jury has already expired. The state court judge extended the term for two additional months, and added 60 days to that, to give the grand jury the maximum possible time under Missouri law.
While the grand jury need not take all of that time to reach a finding on this case, the only one on their docket, it can if it deems it necessary. Community members widely believe that this is an effort to delay the announcement of an indictment decision, and an effort for McCulloch (an elected officer) to avoid any political backlash from its outcome. At the same time, an indictment by the Grand Jury is uncertain, as Missouri’s Defense of Justification for the use of force statute gives broad discretion for law enforcement to use deadly force to effect an arrest. Some commentators have noted that this might be unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Tennessee v. Garner, cited in the U.S. government reports. In the meantime, Officer Darren Wilson continues to take home a paycheck, on paid administrative leave pending a grand jury verdict.
The actions of the police department and the local prosecutor come against the backdrop of deep racial divisions in the community and a history of racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department. While the population of Ferguson is 67% black, the police force that is 94% white. An annual state report on racial profiling in Ferguson notes that last year, 86% of police stops and 92% of police searches were on black people. In September 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would be conducting a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police, and is working with law enforcement in surrounding areas in efforts towards reform.
The Department of Justice is also conducting its own investigation into the shooting of Michel Brown.25 The initiation of this investigation is a positive step and places pressure on local authorities to conduct a credible investigation as well. Nevertheless, DOJ investigations do not guarantee a prosecution, regardless of its findings, and research has shown that between 1986 and 2003, less than 2% of federal civil rights referrals to the DOJ were actually prosecuted. DOJ investigations can take years to complete, as evidenced by the investigation of another unarmed black teenager Ramarley Graham in early 2012, which is still ongoing.
Moreover, Ferguson is but one of numerous cities in St. Louis County that have a longstanding racial profiling problem. The killing of Michael Brown brought to the surface a pattern of systematic targeting and harassment of racial minorities for fines and minor infractions by municipal police forces. A larger probe into the policies and practices of North St. Louis County police departments and indeed, nationwide, is required to begin addressing discriminatory policing problems.
Lesley McSpadden Autobiographical Book
In her autobiographical book, Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil, McSpadden chronicles her life and the death of her son. She details her experience and great pain in detail. The Michael Brown video is still circulating online, reliving the horror of that day and the lack of care taken with Brown’s body.
The book chronicles McSpadden’s life growing up in tough St. Louis neighborhoods, her experiences raising Brown, the devastation his shooting brought, and her push to honor his memory. Brown’s death became a catalyst in the national Black Lives Matter movement.
In her book, McSpadden recalls her fourth-grader son being invited to read his Martin Luther King Jr. essay to the school board. Besides writing, he also liked to figure out how things were put together. Once she found a high school-aged Michael taking a computer apart and reassembling it.
“I also want people to know that before this happened we were just regular people, ordinary people that sent their kids to school, went to work, and fried fish on Fridays and barbecued,” she said.
Though she is one of the faces of civil rights today and widely known in the black community for her efforts, McSpadden said in a CBS interview that she doesn’t view herself as an activist.
“I just don’t look at myself as being an activist or any of those things people try to label me as,” McSpadden said. “I’ve always just wanted to be treated fair and equal, and that’s what I’m fighting for, for my son right now.”
Justice For All Rally
Lesley McSpadden, mother of police shooting victim Michael Brown helps lead the ‘Justice For All’ rally and march against police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men by police in the nation’s capital, December 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. Organized by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, this march and others like it across the country aim to tell Congress and the country that demonstrators will not stand down until there is systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct. Sharpton said the demonstration took place in Washington ‘because all over the country we all need to come together and demand this Congress deal with the issues, that we need laws to protect the citizens in these states from these state grand jurors.’
- Biography and Profile Lesley McSpadden