We all waited for more than 100 days to learn if the St. Louis County grand jury would indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. We waited because for many, this case had become a test of whether, in fact, in this country, at this moment, black lives matter. But while we waited for this temperature reading on the state of American racial justice, one woman waited for a far more personal reason.
Michael Brown was her son, and she wanted to know if the man who killed him would be held accountable. She first stood, defiant, and then as she learned there would be no indictment, she cried out with anguish that rendered her mute, paralyzed, and torn asunder with loss and disbelief.
That is why my letter this week goes to Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden.
Dear Ms. McSpadden,
It’s me, Melissa.Like you, I am the mother of black children. Like so many other black moms I wanted to say something to comfort you this week. But here I stand, still unsure of what to say. For months we have watched you navigate the treacherous, agonizing, and now all too familiar role of a grieving black mother seeking justice for your slain child.
Along with the stoic and extraordinary Sybrina Fulton, we endured the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman who killed her son, Trayvon Martin. Along with the undaunted Lucia McBath, we felt some sense of fairness with the retrial conviction of Michael Dunn who killed her son, Jordan Davis. Along with determined Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, we were stunned by the senseless motivations of gang rivalry espoused by the alleged killers of her daughter, Hadiya Pendleton.
This week, along with you we were broken as we learned that a grand jury found no crime in the killing of your son-Michael. I cannot speak for all black mothers, but I want you to know that many of us felt your anguish through the screen, felt it penetrate our core and break our hearts as we bore witness to your shock and torment.
I want you to know: your son’s life did matter. No decision by any jury, anywhere, can ever change that truth.
I know what Officer Wilson has been said about Michael. About what he looked like. What he did. How he had no choice but to shoot and kill Michael. I beg you to hold onto the things that you know about Michael that none of us can ever know: the precious weight of his baby self when he snuggled into your arms as an infant; the thrill and pride he had when he learned to ride a bike; the adolescent rebellion and experimentation he asserted as he tried out being his own man.
The struggle he endured to finish high school. The dreams he nurtured of making music and bigger life. Officer Wilson was there in the final moments of Michael’s life. And far too many saw Michael’s body for hours after his death. A death and aftermath that have been so tragically, painfully public.But to be a black mother in America has never been an entirely private matter. Going all the back to slavery when enslaved black women were expected to understand they were not giving birth to children; but instead producing units for sale. Black mothers were forced to pass along their enslaved status to their infants; ensuring intergenerational chattel bondage was the first inheritance black mothers gave to black children in America. But even then black mothers found a way to love, nurtured and cherish their children in a private place in their souls that no injustice could erase.
No matter how public his death, it is you, mama, who ushered Michael into this world, who heard his first cries, whispered the first prayer of gratitude for his life, and dreamed the first great dream for him.
You have a right to love, to honor, to remember, to grieve, to seek justice. No matter what happens next, we know it is you, not us, who has endured the greatest loss, and we are sorry. Truly, truly sorry for all that you have lost.