The University of Connecticut’s African-American Cultural welcomed Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, and Benjamin Crump, the lead attorney for the families of both Brown and Trayvon Martin, to speak about their experiences dealing with racial injustice in the Student Union Ballroom Thursday evening.
McSpadden teared up multiple times in her speech. She told the audience about how difficult it was to deal with her son’s death and also to see other mothers suffer similar tragedies.
Crump, also president of the National Bar Association, talked about his experiences dealing with cases like Brown's and Martin's in court.
He originally told Martin’s father that legal help was not necessary, as Martin was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer who admitted to doing it.
“I have met so many parents that are still trapped in this journey,” McSpadden said, in reference to witnessing the death of her son at the hands of a police officer. “I now see that many of the public is still grieving for me.”
Crump talked about how difficult it was to hear about Brown while already handling other similar cases. He said he was initially overwhelmed at dealing with other civil cases. He was also afraid for his nephews, whom he said could have just as been easily shot and killed.
“This was a human being out in the baking sun,” Crump said, referring to how Brown was left on the street after being shot. “You wouldn’t treat a dog like that.”
Outside of her own grief, some of the negatives that McSpadden said she faced involved comments from other people that she wasn’t a good mother to her son, which made her “feel like she was the one with the gun.” She also talked about how she began to fear talking in public after Brown’s death.
However, McSpadden said having been Brown’s mother that she knew the kind of upbringing she taught her son.
“All of me is truth about Michael Brown,” McSpadden said, mentioning she knew her influence on others would give her the strength to keep speaking about her son. “And I will not be silenced.”
McSpadden also said that she was actively pushing for a bill named after her son that would require police officers in duty to wear body cameras. She mentioned that this would be “just one piece of the puzzle” in repairing relations between the police and black culture.
As an attorney, Crump said that he still had to retain faith in the judicial and legal system, also adding that he still thought most cops are good and honest people protecting their community.
Crump said, however, as a black man, he still worries about police because there is a “systematic problem with how black and brown men and even women are treated.”
Washington Post writers Sandhya Somashekhar and Steven Rich wrote that out of 986 killings by police last year, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites after being adjusted for the population. Though six black men constitute six percent of the national population, Somashekhar and Rich wrote that they made up nearly 40 percent of those killed while unarmed.
Public journalism group ProPublica published a report in October 2014 that cited FBI statistics from 2010 to 2012, saying that blacks from 15 to 19 years-old were killed at a rate of just over 31 per million compared to only 1.47 white males per million.
“I don’t know why it’s controversy when we take a stand for being against killing black children,” Crump said to loud applause.
Quoting Martin Luther King, Crump said a measure of man wasn’t where he stood in times of comfort and convenience, but in times of conflict and controversy.
Crump said he still retained hope, mentioning the case of former Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was sentenced to 263 years in prison in late January after being found guilty on four counts of first-degree rape. “There’s hope as long as we have breath in our body,” Crump said.
When people take a stand against injustice, Crump said they also are making their country live up to a creed: one of being a beacon of hope for justice and freedom.
“We are making America be America for everybody,” Crump said. “I challenge anyone to say it’s not worth fighting for.”