FERGUSON, Missouri— It has been a month and a day since Michael Brown was shot and killed, his body left for hours in the street like strange, fallen fruit for his loved ones and neighbors to wail over.
Protests, riots and violent clashes with the police have slowly cooled in the St. Louis suburb, but Brown’s family continues to languish under the weight of an uncertain investigation and the burden of mourning the death of their 18-year-old son – both privately and publicly.
“Each day it seems to get worse for them,” Anthony Gray, a family attorney, told msnbc. “Because each day or each event or turn of events it just seems to just take the dagger and drive it even deeper in the heart of this mother and the father.”
At least a half-dozen witnesses have come forward and given the media and local and federal investigators accounts of what they saw the Saturday afternoon in which a Ferguson police officer fired nearly a dozen rounds at Brown.
One was just feet away. Others were pulling into driveways, standing outside of their apartments or working nearby.
Each has given a similar account of the shooting, saying that there was a struggle at the officer’s car, then gunshots trailing Brown as he attempted to run away. At some point, nearly all of them say, Brown turned with his hands up in surrender. The officer kept firing, they say.
A Grand Jury is currently hearing evidence in the case and mulling whether or not the police officer, six-year veteran Darren Wilson, should be indicted in the killing.
Brown’s mother and father, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., have made fewer and fewer public appearance and given few interviews since they buried their son on Aug. 25. McSpadden and the elder Brown’s grief from that day has been memorialized on the front pages of newspapers and websites, including one of Michael Brown Sr. with his eyes closed and his head cocked back, his dress shirt drenched in sweat and his mouth gaping in despair as the boy’s casket is lowered into the ground.
“Things are not necessarily getting better,” Gray said. “I don’t know what’s going to make it better but just imagine losing a child at an early age like that under these circumstances. I don’t know if you ever get over that.”
Brown’s parents have joined a club that no parent ever signs up to be a part of. They join a long list of members whose names never made the news cycle and others that have become part of the lexicon of America’s bloody and ongoing fight over the value of black male life.
Before them were the parents and family of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ramarley Graham and others, all of whom buried black sons who were unarmed at the time they were killed by white police or white men with guns.
In each of these killings, as the cases dragged slowly under the glare of the media spotlight and the minutia of the criminal justice system, there was the seemingly ubiquitous questioning of the victim’s character, salting the wounds.
Ahead of Brown’s funeral, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin, met with Brown’s family and urged them to hold on and to weather the tumult of the moment.
“It certainly hit home with me and my family knowing that we are still dealing with our ordeal,” Tracy Martin told MSNBC host Alex Witt last month. “I know exactly what they are going through. They’re going to have a lot of restless nights. They are going through it right now and the country stands behind them in their loss.”
Martin said he also understands the hurt that comes from watching a dead loved one’s image tarnished in the court of public opinion. The Brown family, their attorneys and supporters have expressed outrage over the police department’s release of surveillance video footage that allegedly shows Michael Brown stealing a pack of 99 cent cigars from a store then pushing a store clerk who seems to be intervening. Just hours after the department released the video, against the wishes of the Justice Department and local civil rights groups, police chief Thomas Jackson said the video had nothing to do with the incidents that led to Brown’s death and that officer Wilson didn’t even know he was a suspect in a robbery at the time of the shooting.
There have also been false reports circulated that Brown fractured Wilson’s eye socket during the struggle preceding his death and images of an injured man falsely identified as officer Wilson have gone viral.
“It certainly has wear a tear on a parent just seeing the assassination of your son’s character and at the end of the day you ask yourself as a parent, in my case and our case, I sat back and said is my son on trial or his killer on trial,” Martin said. “I’m seeing the same elements in this case.”
With each highly publicized development in the case, attorney Gray said the family is further plunged into heartbreak.
Police say that Wilson shot and killed Brown during a struggle for the officer’s gun.
But just last week, two additional witnesses who were working near the scene of the killing, came forward. Their testimony matches up with that of previous witnesses. The workers say they heard a single gunshot, looked up and saw Brown running and officer Wilson behind, firing on him. At one point they say Brown turned with his hands up and was met with more gunfire from Wilson.
According to reports, the men have talked with federal investigators who are conducting a parallel investigation to the one headed by the St. Louis County police.
“The latest witnesses, they don’t really offer anything new in terms of testimony but they do corroborate the testimony that has already been given. And with that corroboration we are in a place where the evidence is overwhelming,” Gray said. “The one key point that everybody agrees to is that the boy had his hands up. To me, of all the things that people have seen that is the most critical and that is what makes this case distinguishable from any other case in the country.”
Still, he said, it’s far to early to use any of what’s been surfaced so far as any victory for the family in the case moral or otherwise.
“We don’t have an arrest. We don’t have an indictment. We don’t have anything tangible to make that type of determination,” he said. “If we had something I could probably give you a better answer but right now we’re in no better place than we were day one.”
As the family looks for light in the darkness of their heartbreak, Gray said he treads a fine line between offering legal advice and emotional consolation.
“I try to avoid the emotional hot topics and I try to put them in a place where we’re talking about something that’s not necessarily trigging those types of emotions,” Gray said. “So I try to just be very guarded about what I say. So it’s not what I say to them it’s really what I don’t say.”