Almost four years to the day after her son was shot dead by Missouri police under disputed circumstances, Michael Brown’s mom Lezley McSpadden announced that she’s running for the Ferguson City Council. The killing of Brown sparked nationwide protests in 2014, and is widely credited with starting the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Almost four years ago to this day, I ran down this very street,” McSpadden said in an announcement speech Friday. “And my son was covered in a sheet. He broke me, you know? Brought me down to my knees, and made me feel crippled — as if I could do nothing else anymore from that moment. But as time went on, and I stayed surrounded by support and motivational people who knew what happened was wrong, and didn’t give up the fight, I learned to walk again. And this is one of my first steps: Running for Fergeson City Council of 2019.”
McSpadden said she will focus on three main policy issues: community policing, economic equality, and health care.
“I know a lot of people may ask, what makes me qualified,” McSpadden said. “But I’ll tell you: If a mother had to watch her son lay in the street for four and a half hours, and watch a community be completely disrespected by elected officials that we elected, what would you do? You would stand up, and you would fight.”
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, then 18 years old, outside a convenience store in Ferguson on in August 2014. The circumstances surrounding his killing — Wilson fired 12 shots at Brown, even though he was unarmed — resulted in popular outrage across the country, and that outrage grew when a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.
In Ferguson, protesters flooded the streets demanding justice for Brown; those protests themselves became the source of controversy: The Ferguson Police Department imposed a curfew in the city in an attempt to quell the demonstrations, then used tear gas to disperse protesters — hours before the curfew took place.
In the months and years after Brown’s killing, police shootings of unarmed black people began getting regular attention in the media, and so did studies showing that police disproportionately use lethal force against black suspects. Several prominent voices in the Black Lives Matter movement have since said that Brown’s killing and the subsequent reaction motivated them to become active in fighting police violence.
“If Mike wasn’t killed and people weren’t directly impacted, if we didn’t leave our homes, I don’t know where or what movement I would [have been in] two years ago,” Ferguson protester Johnetta Elzie, now a prominent leader in Black Lives Matter, told USA Today. “I probably wouldn’t be as involved as I am now.”
Two years after her son’s death, McSpadden wrote a book called Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown. In an interview with Cosmopolitan at the time, she said that she was still suffering from the trauma of Brown’s death, and that the lack of justice she felt thereafter was still weighing heavily on her.
“Since that happened to my son, I’m just going to be honest with you, nothing is too enjoyable because I’m in this struggle to get some form of justice,” McSpadden said. “A smile on my face says something to others, but inside I feel so messed up. I feel like I can’t enjoy anything.”
Some form of justice may be on the horizon, however: In addition to the fact that McSpadden may soon be in a position to effect policy change as an elected official, the prosecutor who refused to indict Wilson lost his primary election in an upset on Tuesday. He was defeated by Wesley Bell, a black city council member and vocal advocate of criminal justice reform.