On the evening of October 4th, 28-year-old Joshua Brown, former neighbor of slain Dallas youth pastor Botham Jean, was identified as the victim of an unidentified gunman on the 4600 block of Cedar Springs Road in Dallas, Texas. Less than eight days after taking the stand against former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger, Brown was found with multiple gunshot wounds near a Dallas apartment complex and was later transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead. As I sat writing about the unlikelihood of the Dallas Police Department solving the gruesome murder of the young father, Dallas PD went public with a statement claiming they had done just that.
Asst. Police Chief Avery Moore identified Jacquerious Mitchell, 20; Michael Mitchell, 32; and Thaddeous Green, 22 as suspects, claiming they had traveled all the way from Alexandria, Louisiana to Dallas to purchase marijuana from Brown. Moore stated that the trio initiated contact with Brown to arrange the purchase of marijuana but found themselves in a dilemma when a physical altercation ensued between Green and Brown. As Jacquerious exited the vehicle, Brown allegedly fired one shot into his chest causing him to collapse inside the vehicle where he heard two additional gunshots, both of which struck Brown. Police claim Green then took Brown’s backpack and the gun he used to shoot at the trio and sped away, dropping his injured accomplice at a local hospital where he remained in critical condition and leaving Brown to die of his injuries shortly thereafter.
The Dallas police Department would like us to believe that three Black Louisiana men drove five hours across state lines for the sole purpose of buying an illegal substance from a man who had, just days prior, testified against a Dallas Police Officer in a highly publicized murder trial. The Dallas police Department would like us to believe that a man with zero drug distribution convictions suddenly decided to take up trafficking just days after taking part in criminal court proceedings. The Dallas Police Department would also like us to believe that a paranoid, hyper-vigilant Brown not only stashed drugs in his new apartment, but then invited fellow drug dealers over to his place to purchase them. Dallas Police would also like us to believe that these three men concluded that, out of all the drug dealers with marijuana for purchase, Brown was the safest and most discrete one to do business with, despite his distance and highly publicized legal involvement. I’m not saying this was a systemic attempt at righting a perceived wrong or even a calculated effort to silence any further damaging declarations. No, the steps white people in power in America will take to carry out the systemic executions of its detractors are no longer hidden in plain sight, they want us to see. And the ones that were taken in this case are obvious.
Step 1: Plant Seeds of Doubt
Approximately 2 minutes and 7 seconds into taking the stand in the murder trial against Amber Guyger, Joshua Brown was asked about his previous run-ins with law enforcement. The line of questioning, which touched on a misdemeanor theft conviction from 2011 and a possession of controlled substances conviction dating back to 2016, seemed like an odd inquisition for someone taking the stand as a witness as opposed to a defendant, but when are Black men ever not on trial?
In 2015, slain Sarasota, Florida man Johnnie Campbell was denied access to the crime victim compensation fund due to a crime he’d committed more than 30 years prior. In 2017, the New York Post described deceased 66-year-old Timothy Caughman as a “career criminal,” chronicling his “life of crime,” which included charges for marijuana and “menacing.” Meanwhile his white supremacist murderer was described as “dapper.” Law enforcement wasted no time painting Michael Brown as a dangerous villain following his untimely murder, almost immediately releasing video of an unrelated robbery to allude to Brown’s involvement. And Trayvon Martin’s attire was put on trial before George Zimmerman ever saw the inside of a courtroom. The demonization of Black victims by the American criminal justice system is intentional and calculated, one that they brazenly allow us to watch play out in real time. It devalues lives that are already dangerously devalued, and gives credence to the idea that no actual loss is experienced with the loss of each Black life, especially when Black life is a threat to all others.
Step 2: Add A Little Crime
During his 2000 television stand up special, Killin’ Them Softly, comedian Dave Chappelle joked about his hesitation to call law enforcement even after falling victim to criminal activity himself. The comedian chronicled a time his home was burglarized, causing him to consider calling the cops but quickly deciding against it. Not because the crime against him was trivial, but because he feared being victimized by the police as well. “Let’s sprinkle some crack on him and get out of here,” the comedian joked an officer might say, glossing over the force’s propensity to discredit Black victims with false evidence. And despite the laughter that ensued, the reality of the joke was that for Black people, it’s the ones sworn to our safety who pose the biggest threat, both figuratively and literally.
During officer Guyge’s trial, not only was Brown prompted to acknowledge marijuana as the connecting link between he and Botham, but his conviction for drug possession just three years prior was also made known. And who would be shocked at a drug dealer turned drug user losing his life during the commission of a drug-related crime? The police hoped no one. The sudden discovery of 12 pounds of marijuana, other drugs, and $4,000 in cash in Brown’s newly rented apartment, all of which was mysteriously left behind after the alleged drug deal, was as much about convenience as it was about conviction. Not only had the crime all but written itself, the systemic and intentional disenfranchisement of all parties involved guarantee that none will see justice, Brown included. Whether by criminal law or street code, Brown was found guilty of going against a force that has long mandated Black silence in response to Black oppression. When all other witnesses were intimidated beyond cooperation, Brown stood up and spoke out against the unlawful murder of his neighbor, marking himself as a man of principal and a man of courage. A reputation the Dallas Police Department could not allow to go untarnished.
Step 3: Feed Us The Fable
If you want to know where a city’s Black leaders are in the wake of an atrocity committed against the community, turn on your local news. I guarantee you, they’re there. The plantation procedure of dispensing white failure through the mouths of Black figureheads is so prominent we’ve almost started to see the designation as a prize. The NFL bought Jay-Z to quiet their boycotters. James Brown was brought in to silence a grieving generation after the murder of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Gucci finally stopped suing Dapper Dan when they needed a Black face to hide behind during the blackface scandal. Even Papa John’s ran out and secured Shaquille O’Neal after their “N-word” embarrassment. There isn’t a white blunder in history that doesn’t have a Black face all over its rebound. And the city’s handling of the death of Brown is rife with its old tricks.
Hours after Brown’s death was announced, a Black man, Assistant Police Chief Avery Moore took to the media to chastise Black leaders for implying that the Dallas police department played any part. “I encourage those leaders to be mindful of their actions moving forward because their words have jeopardized the integrity of the city of Dallas as well as the Dallas Police Department,” he stated, as if the untimely murders of unarmed Black men Jason Harrison, James Harper, Clinton Allen, and countless others at the hands of Dallas police didn’t do a number on their reputation. We may never know which Black death gave life to the whispers of corruption. Between Guyger being treated like the victim of a murder she committed and the Dallas Police Department’s declaration that their reputation is more important than our retribution, it’s clear that white supremacy doesn’t know how not to center itself in the wake of Black tragedies. And what better, more audacious way to communicate that casual disregard for our lives than through a Black body.
We may never know for certain what happened on the evening of October 4th outside the Atera Apartments or what events led to such a sudden, tragic loss of life, but the death of Joshua Brown is just as much a misfortune as it is a message to us all. Our community is engulfed in a cycle of systemic abuse, one through which we are regularly victimized, then vilified, then criticized to suspend suspicion of wrongdoing as the system would want us to. We’re required to disregard reason and logic, ignore evidence-rich history, suppress human emotions that don’t fit their filter, and behave as though their burns are blessings. What good is being a do-gooder when bad people define what good is?
Botham Jean was a good person until good meant a white woman would be held accountable for her actions, and Joshua Brown was on a good path until his alleged backsliding served their agenda. Justice in America is reserved for white people while we’re offered a temporary truce in its place. We are not obligated to trust the justice system, no matter the complexion of the one wielding the gavel. And we’re not obligated to trust Black faces in high spaces, especially when their longstanding history is to pacify and punish us when wronged. We’ve learned to navigate this burning structure so well that we can no longer feel when it scorches us, but it is undeniable that we have all been burned by the murder of Joshua Brown. When it comes to the pursuit of justice for the gross loss of Black life in this country, America is speaking loud and clear. We should listen.