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‘Change Agent’: Michael Brown Jr.’s Parents Reflect On His Legacy 7 Years Later

Michael Brown Sr. visits his son's grave.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Michael Brown Sr. in 2019 kneeling at the grave of his son, Michael Brown Jr.

The killing of Michael Brown Jr. by a Ferguson police officer seven years ago sparked a movement about police violence against Black people and accountability. That conversation has continued as the list of Black people killed by police has grown — including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Since then, Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr., and his stepmother, Cal Brown, have been working to preserve his legacy through their organization, the Michael Brown Chosen for Change Foundation. Every year, the family holds a memorial weekend to celebrate a life that was cut short.

The process of healing has been hard for his entire family. His younger siblings still ask questions about why their brother was killed. His parents experience recurring trauma near the anniversary of his death. However, this year, they’ve shifted their focus to not only help themselves heal, but other families experiencing loss as well.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with the Browns about their son’s legacy after the murder of George Floyd and their hope for accountability.

Marissanne Lewis-Thompson: It’s been seven years since your son Michael Brown Jr. was killed. How are you doing?

Michael Brown Sr.: I'm definitely in a place where I'm working on coping and understanding the coping process and trying to move forward for the rest of my family. The family is really still in disbelief and still have questions and still don't understand why did this happen, especially the little ones. But we just keep them encouraged and keep the fight alive.

Lewis-Thompson: You were hopeful that the officer who killed your son will be held accountable with [St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell] in place. That didn't happen. Are you still hopeful that accountability and justice will happen at some point?

Michael: Of course. We’re working on a few things right now. Sitting in some rooms to try and get some laws in our favor as being Black folks, brown folks. So that's definitely still on the table. That will never get wiped off the table. Hopefully, if not, with this prosecutor, later on in the future, this can be brought back up, because there's no statutory [limit] on murder. I'm gonna ride this to my death. So whatever work I have to do to try to bring this back to the light I'm going to do it.

Lewis-Thompson: What does accountability and justice look like for you at this moment?

Cal Brown: Darren Wilson spending the rest of his life in jail. It wouldn't necessarily be justice, but it would be accountability for taking Mike's life.

Lewis-Thompson: What about you, Mike?

Cal: Be honest.

Michael: Death penalty. Accountability, of course. I feel like this person should not be walking around, hugging his family, waking up to his family and being able to live a regular life while we’re over here hurting like this incident never happened.

Lewis-Thompson: Last year with the murder of George Floyd, it was a big turning point in the conversation surrounding police violence, accountability, defunding the police. Where do you see this conversation going and who should be leading it?

Cal: Well, everybody keep talking about justice. Justice would mean our children would still be alive. Thankfully, this cop is being held accountable to some extent for his actions. I would say the families have to lead this conversation. It’s not a movement without the family's voice being first and foremost.

Michael: I feel about the same way. It’s a big thing for their family to know that they loved one got justice. But sadly, their loved one is still gone. We had conversations with other people when they were asking us how do I think that the families feel. I can only speak for myself. It’s still not satisfying. You know, we still shouldn't have to go through this. This should not even happen.

Lewis-Thompson: So much has happened in the past seven years. As people reflect on that time, what do you want your son's legacy to be as the conversation surrounding police violence and accountability continues?

Cal: So many things have changed. So many different laws, so many policies. They're told to wear body cams, and officers are beginning to be held, you know, accountable. So I think we want him to be remembered as the change agent. The person who lit the fire, and it went wild. Because if you think about it, there wouldn't have been a George Floyd, a Breonna Taylor, an Ahmaud Arbery, a Daunte Wright, sadly, the list goes on, if Mike Brown Jr. had not been murdered on Aug. 9, 2014. and laid in the street for 4½ hours.

Lewis-Thompson: What do you hope for your son's legacy, Mike?

Michael: Just for people not to forget. Some people will not forget. Got people that go on with they life and forget the story or what happened that day. Just the truth.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.