michael brown

Don’t tell us how to grieve Michael Brown

I HAVE ALWAYS believed that grief is personal.

Grief is one of those things that you kinda have to handle on your own. No one can tell you how long you should grieve, how you should grieve, or what you should grieve about. Or at least that’s how I’ve always felt it should work.

There’s also not supposed to be a grief quota, meaning that if you want to grieve about more than one thing, it’s your business. No one has the right to tell you that you can’t because that’s something that belongs to you.

Michael Brown and the truth on black grief

Now why am I bringing this up?

[blocktext align=”right”]If anyone even looks like they want to ask me “Why aren’t black people as concerned about black-on-black crime as they are when a White person shoots a black person?” I’m not going to be responsible for my actions.[/blocktext]

I’m bringing it up because an 18-year-old unarmed black kid named Michael Brown was gunned down in a suburb of St. Louis on Saturday. He was visiting his grandmother before beginning his freshman year of college on Monday.

I’m bringing it up because I know that Philadelphia has some black-on-black crime issues. When I was teaching in Southwest Philadelphia, they’d occasionally find their way into my classroom.

And most importantly, I’m bringing it up because if anyone even looks like they want to ask me “Why aren’t black people as concerned about black-on-black crime as they are when a white person shoots a black person?” I’m not going to be responsible for my actions.

You see I’m part of an ever-growing number of black Philadelphians, or for that matter black people period, who have had enough of having to justify the grief and anger they feel when white men shoot black children.

And while we’re tired of having to justify our grief and anger to whites, we’re REALLY tired of having to justify it to blacks. That this question gets asked by black people is a smack in the face to all of the grassroots community organizations that are trying their hardest to make things better.

The black community in Ferguson have taken to the streets every day to protest the shooting of Michael Brown. Witnesses say that Brown was unarmed, and even had his hands up when he was shot by a police officer that he was alleged to have pushed back into his patrol car while walking down the street, according to news reports.

Michael Brown and the truth on the police

Police also say that Brown was trying to disarm the officer and the shooting was the result of this struggle.

I’m not going to get into whose account I believe because to me, the he-said-he-said aspects of this whole thing are a lot less important than the fact that yet another unarmed Black kid vs. armed White adult confrontation ended with the black kid in a casket.

[blocktext align=”left”]I’m not going to get into whose account I believe because to me, the he-said-he-said aspects of this whole thing are a lot less important than the fact that yet another unarmed black kid vs. armed white adult confrontation ended with the black kid in a casket.[/blocktext]

(Or in the case of Brown, in the street…where his body laid uncovered for hours after he was shot…)

I should probably also avoid pointing out that the fact that this particular white adult was also a police officer just puts the cherry on top of this toxic sundae.

However, I will point out that from the moment I heard about Brown’s death on Sunday morning, I’ve wished that there were something I could do for his parents.

Eighteen is supposed to be an age of beginnings. At 18 your parents should be moving you into your college dorm. Or helping you pick out your first car. Or taking you to your county’s Board of Elections so that you can register to vote.

They should not be picking out your casket. That has to hurt. It’s a loss no family should have to deal with.

But guess what? My ability to multitask also allows me to grieve when the deaths are closer to home.

Michael Brown and the truth on black sorrow

I can grieve for Brown as I did when one of my former students was shot to death.

I can grieve for this black child in another state as I did for a former student who died of a drug overdose.

And I can be as angry for the unnecessary loss of a young man elsewhere as I am when I read about black kids here in Philly doing heinous things to each other.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, grief is personal, and should be treated as such.

But maybe if we policed our community’s grief a little less, and felt it collectively a little more, we might be able to accomplish the one thing that we can all agree on.

An end to the madness…all of it. sj favicon 3

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons: “Stop Open Season on Black Bodies” Anti-Police Brutality Protest in response to the killing of Michael Brown (Ferguson MO) in front of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC on Wednesday evening, 13 August 2014 by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography.

denise clay 2Denise Clay is a veteran journalist and adjunct professor. She is an active member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.


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JT Childress

Great piece! A person I know said, “why are we so upset on this when so many Blacks are killed by other Blacks?”

My response:

I agree the outrage should be much greater for Black on Black crime. No doubt. But that doesn’t mean it should be any less for police executions. What does all the civil rights struggle mean if police still can shoot us down like animals and walk away clean?

Also, we really have to be careful about generalizations about Black behavior. Or actions are really no different than Whites. What is different is the scale and power.

Black people are violent and kill each other. Yes. White people are violent and kill each other and also other races – see WWI, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq War, etc etc etc. White people kill just as much as Blacks but do it under the cover of government “war”.


Yes, some Black people steal, rob stores, hold up people. No doubt. Whites steal entire treasuries from weaker nations – again, it is all about scale.

I am ok with Ferguson – at least we are seeing action. Now we have to channel that action into sustained work which will hold police accountable instead of rioting. We did NOTHING for Trayvon but some Facebook posts.

Next, once we get BACK to real SUSTAINED action, we need to turn the focus inward – just as Jasmine suggests and improve our own communities.

Why not start with us? In a perfect world we would. In this world we need an atrocity like this to get us back in motion

Black on Black crime does not happen in a vacuum. I see two parts to it and both must be recognized and addressed.

First, the conditions which exist – poor schools, no jobs, poor housing – were not done by accident nor are they the sole responsibility of Black people. Make no mistake about it, people with far more power than us set up the conditions for us to act like animals. I am not just talking about racist Whites who have allowed drugs to infiltrate our communities along with guns but their Black co-conspirators as well.

Second part – and this speaks to your direction – just because they set us up doesn’t mean we have to take it. I was born in South Central LA. I never used drugs and I never shot anyone. Yes, we can become mentally stronger so that we can stop killing each other, increase our learning, and build strong economic communities.

But we must always understand why we are in this position or we will have a much less chance of creating and implementing effective solutions.

If you want to address Black criminal behavior we must first understand the causes AND also look to see if our behavior is different than the norm or other races. When you do that you will find our behavior is similar to other races in the same environments. Thus a lot of our solutions should be more economic and socially based than race based.

if you put non-Blacks in Cabrini Green you would see similar actions.

Tell me, how is the violence in the poor areas of Ukraine, Mexico, Iraq, AFghanistan?

Just where is this land of peaceful, poor non-Black people?

Conversely, do wealthy Blacks go around shooting things up at a high rate? Do you see Oprah and Magic carrying AKs around?


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