The parents of Michael Brown, the unarmed teen who was fatally shot this summer by a veteran police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, are bringing the story of how their son was killed to the international stage.
Appearing as part of a delegation of human rights advocates and organizations, Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., are meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, this week to testify on police violence in the United States.
In a session Tuesday with the United Nations Committee Against Torture, Brown’s parents, along with activists from Ferguson to Chicago, argued that cases of police brutality throughout the U.S. amount to human rights violations.
“If you look at the amount of people who are victimized by police, they tend to be disproportionately people of color,” Ejim Dike, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, told msnbc. “The treatment of black and brown people is happening all over. We just happened to see it flare up in Ferguson.”
Dike’s group organized the delegation of more than 70 representatives to travel to Geneva to raise an array of U.S. issues beyond police violence, including national security, deportation policies, military sexual assault and the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay. The groups are convening as the UN committee reviews the U.S. federal government’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty outlined to prevent torture or cruel punishment throughout the world.
“Their testimony humanized the issue,” Dike aid. “It really helped reach the hearts and minds of the committee members. We saw a strong recommendation on police violence, and we also saw the international community condemn it.”
A coalition of organizations and attorneys representing the Brown family submitted a 13-page brief to the UN committee, raising concerns about how local officials handled the investigation into the Brown’s death and how protesters were impacted by the aggressive police response in the aftermath. “The killing of Mike Brown and the abandonment of his body in the middle of a neighborhood street is but an example of the utter lack of regard for, and indeed dehumanization of, black lives by law enforcement personnel,” the groups wrote in the brief.
Brown’s parents are set to present the brief to the UN committee Wednesday and Thursday, alongside activists who became leaders in the protests following the teen’s death, human rights attorneys from St. Louis and a delegation of young activists from Chicago. Dike said organizers hope that seeing Brown’s parents in person will have a strong impact on the UN committee. In the past, the U.S. Human Rights Network invited the parents of two high-profile slain teens, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, to speak before UN on racial profiling.
The timing of their trip comes during a critical juncture in the investigation into Brown’s death. A St. Louis grand jury panel is expected to decide very soon whether to indict veteran Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed the unarmed teen on Aug. 9.
Police and witnesses have said Brown and Wilson engaged in a physical struggle through the window of the officer’s SUV shortly before the teen’s death. Law enforcement officials say Brown attempted to take Wilson’s gun when the police officer fired the first shot. A half-dozen eye-witnesses have said publicly that they saw Brown flee from the vehicle as Wilson open fire with the fatal shots landing as the teen stopped, turned to the officer and raised his arms in surrender. But a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told NBC News’ Pete Williams that Wilson said he feared for his safety when the teen turned and charged back toward him after running from the vehicle.
In an interview Tuesday in Geneva, McSpadden told CNN that she hoped Wilson will be charged in her son’s death. ”Well my faith is in God and I’m pretty sure there will be an indictment. I’m pretty sure,” she said. “Why wouldn’t there be an indictment?”
Officials tasked with ensuring public safety in the St. Louis region, and local advocates who see the teen’s death as unjust, are bracing for more protests in the streets after the grand jury announces its decision, which is expected sometime in November.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon held a press conference Tuesday afternoon alongside local and state law enforcement officials to inform the public on police planning efforts ahead of the looming grand jury decision. He said the state National Guard would be available if it is needed to enforce security in the area. He also said “violence will not be tolerated” after the grand jury hands down its decision.