By Amelia Vassar and James Williams
What’s the Fuss?
On Thursday, May 28th, 2015, in Sea Tac, Washington, a 17 year old black male was shot in the head by a King County Sheriff Deputy. A relationship of blind trust between the police and the media was clearly demonstrated throughout this narrative. Mainstream news outlets were reluctant to ask hard questions of the police while immediately accepting all assumptions about the shooting victim. Initial tweets from the Sheriff’s office stated that a gun-toting car-jacking black male was shot after “firing shots at police.”
However, later on this was explained away as a ‘misunderstanding.’ The teen had no gun. Perhaps there were too many witnesses outside to run with that story. Later on, Sergeant Seo of the King County Sheriffs Department was quick to justify the shooting another way. Apparently, “the car was being used as a weapon.” Both ways, it was called justifiable and the evening news didn’t even pretend to look closely into the misunderstandings.
The young man shot by officers is named Isiah Brazier. Witnesses state he was observed sitting in what may have been a stolen Lexus. Two officers approached the car. A chase ensued. It started on 208th St just east of Highway 99 and ended when they shot the 17 year old twice in the head. No officers suffered any kind of injuries.
Friday morning, I woke to the phone buzzing. It was a text from Ardo Hersi, a young organizer whom I respect greatly, notifying us that another young black male had been gunned down overnight. It felt like de ja vu, though the details made it unique. This shooting happened less than four miles from my home. More text began pouring in rapid fire as if they were police bullets: “He was only 17,” “Can’t stop crying,” “How to make it stop?”
Why It Keeps Happening?
It made my soul ache to read through the articles and accompanying comments that popped up the first few days after the shooting. Seemed that every account of what happened was different. Some claimed he had shot at police first. Others said he had run over a police officer. Some claimed the wounds were not serious. Others swore half his head was blown off. Comments included a post from Thatswhatshesays: “Don’t disrespect our wonderful police officers and you won’t die! What’s so hard to understand about that?” and one from Cheeko: “Fantastic work by the officers involved. Too bad we can’t hang him as we used to do.”
Almost immediately, the media’s labeling of the young male as a “suspected car thief,” worked to undermine the humanity of the youth. Kiro 7’s first report on May 29th was titled “King Co. deputy shoots 17 year old suspect in stolen car,” while King 5’s news article on May 29, 2015 was titled “Deputy shots suspected car thief in SeaTac.” Komo News, quicker on the beat than the other outlets, lamented: “Deputy shoots teen driver in SeaTac car-ramming drama.” Although the mainstream news outlets initially refused to release the name of the teen, they had no problem mentioning his legal run-ins, which of course include “car-prowling.” He was shot in the head on May 28, 2015, released from Harborview less than 1 week later when he was promptly placed in jail. Only one article cares to mention that the officer was placed on administrative leave, as if the life of the youth in this case is irrelevant.
At a community meeting a few days later, black women began to imagine what it must be like for his mother and other family members. Young leaders mentioned the hospital bill that would be sent to his home, whether he made it or not. Young Brazier was shot because we live in a racist system that sees black youth as scary. Officers think abusing our youth is always justified. The media misreports the case to cover for them. And too many regular people co-sign by looking the other way. So much of the system is rotten.
Looking Back To See Forward
It is ironic that officers shot this boy during the same time jurors were deliberating the fate of Christopher Mumfort. For those who are unaware, five years ago Mumfort metaphorically set Seattle on fire and became the stuff hood legends are made of. He was arrested for allegedly killing a Seattle Police Department officer and firebombing several Police Cars. Word on the streets was he was captured at his apartment in Tukwila with more firepower and ammo rounds than an Isis calaphate. They only took him alive because his gun jammed.
He was so badly beaten it took him five years to heal from his injuries. He didn’t deny doing that which he was accused of. He didn’t plead innocence. He pled insanity. See, after the brutal beating of Rodney King was seen around the world, Mumford enrolled in University of Washington School of Law with dreams of becoming a lawyer and doing all he could to combat the societal ill of police brutality. A few years later, a video was leaked to local news outlets showing a King County Deputy punching and pummeling a fifteen year old black girl as he questioned her. Mumfort began to question what good being a lawyer would do, since the laws of the land were not followed or enforced on black people’s behalf. Eventually, he concluded the only way to end police brutality was to kill white police officers. He understood that for too long black and brown people had been the only ones suffering. Their pain needed to be redistributed. Similar to eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Mumfort figured the only way to stop the murder and abuse was if he could somehow help white cops share in that pain. Jurors ignored the insanity plea and found him guilty as charged last Friday.
History shows more will travel the route of Chris Mumfort if the reckless killing of black men continues unabated as it has over the summer. I am reminded of moments like when Malcolm X delivered the “Ballot or the Bullet” speech. On April 12, 1964 in Detroit, Michigan he talked about if blacks don’t receive the right to vote they may move toward armed struggle. Eventually, we did get that right to vote. I am also reminded of the interview Robert F. Williams gave where he said “If the United States government refuses to protect the black community, then the black community will have no choice but to arm and protect ourselves.” Robert Williams was President of the Monroe North Carolina chapter of the NAACP when he spoke those words. The year was 1962, a white man had just been found not guilty of raping a black woman in a well-publicized trial. There was a lot of evidence and multiple witnesses of both races who testified on behalf of the black woman. Many in his community were left crying, numb, and wondering who it would happen to next.
Shaping the Future
The King County Sherriff’s Department is still investigating the shooting. Until the world recognizes that black lives truly matter, the police will continue to shoot our children. Everyone has a part to play in creating real solutions. Some of us need to keep marching, keep disrupting, keep boycotting, keep speaking truth to power through art, and keep building better tomorrows. Communities most affected by the problems must lead the way. This is how we will shape a future where our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters will no longer be gunned down then lied on by police officers. This is how the change will come.