Protests over the shooting of 26-year old black man Brandon Tate-Brown have spread all across the Philadelphia area. Brown was shot and killed by Philadelphia police after being pulled over for driving without his headlights on in Mayfair on December 15. Brown stepped out of the car when police discovered a gun in his center console, which he legally couldn’t have because he was on probation, after receiving jail time for defending a woman against an attacker. According to police reports, Brown tried to reach for his gun while standing near his car, causing one police officer to shoot Brown in the back of the head.
Tanya Brown, Brandon’s mother, doesn’t believe the police reports, claiming they contradict one another and leave too many questions unanswered. For one thing she knew her son would never physically engage the police. She also complained that police racially profiled her son for driving a new 2014 Dodge car in a white neighborhood at 2:30 in the morning, which was actually leased by the company he worked for. She accused police of racial profiling because Dodge Company reports indicate that new models only have headlights off when they are parked and the keys are not in the ignition. She also claimed to have asked for video surveillance tapes from numerous shops near where the shooting took place, but when she asked for the videos from these stores she learned the police had already collected them. Lastly she demands to know why she had to learn about her son’s death the next day while driving to work. More than a month later she has not received an official apology from the police department, she has not received any information on which officer shot her son, and has not received any video footage from the night her son was killed.
Numerous demonstrations have occurred across the city following Brown’s death. The first one I attended was the “I Want To Live” rally at Independence Hall on December 28, where I first heard Tanya Brown speak out against her son’s death. I also marched with her at the “MLK Day of Action, Resistance & Empowerment March” on January 19. Since then Tanya has spoken at weekly demonstrations that have been sponsored by different organizations and individuals.
The most recent demonstration for Brandon Brown was the “Philly United March: Justice for Brandon Tate-Brown!” held on January 31, hosted by Lauryn Flizeer. I arrived at the Macy’s parking lot on Cottman Avenue beside the Roosevelt Mall around noon, where I joined half-a-dozen others in a picket on the sidewalk. The temperature was below freezing and the powerful wind pressure, which caused several people to be knocked over or lose their placards, dropped the temperature into the negatives. Thirty minutes later Tanya Brown led between 50 and 75 people in a march toward the Frankford Transportation Center, located several miles away.
It became abundantly clear right away that several demonstrators would not be passive nor appease to the demands of the cops. Early on the cops at the head of the march asked us to march only on one side of the street, but this request was immediately met by one woman screaming in the face of one officer, saying she could march where she pleased. This same woman, who I’ve seen act in a similar manner at previous demonstrations, led a small group of no more than five people that day in angry and confrontational chants. Several different times her entourage harassed police officers by screaming in their faces, demanding to know who killed Brandon Brown. At another point, when police vehicles tried to get around us to block off the next intersection, she purposely marched in a slow manner in front of the vehicle after it almost hit someone. The most harmful act performed by her was scaring away sympathetic bystanders. Curious drivers watching us march were scared away when she yelled in their faces in the exact same tone she had used with police. Meanwhile the majority of demonstrators, including myself and Tanya Brown, counter-chanted with more peaceful slogans.
The actions led by this marginalized group served as a precursor to what may come in the future. Those who didn’t join her group had no problem expressing their impatience in other ways. The popular slogan “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was replaced with “Hands Up, Fight Back,” representing the movement’s shift from pleading to demanding change. Also the chant “Whose Streets, Our Streets” was replaced by “Whose Streets, Not the Cops.” These slogans were chanted by the majority of the demonstrators, revealing the growing impatience and anger over the practices of police brutality and the lack of cooperation by police in revealing the facts about Brandon Brown’s death.
The rally was held in the middle of the street in front of the Frankford Transportation Center. Nearly a hundred persons formed a ring around the speakers, which included Tanya Brown and the confrontational woman. When the rally concluded over 50 of us, all of whom were exhausted after already marching and chanting and standing for nearly two hours, had to march several miles back to Macy’s where the march first began. We made one final march through the parking lot at the Roosevelt Mall and Macy’s, and concluded the day’s event with a short speech.
Unfortunately the demonstration received very little press coverage and no reporters were visible that day. Except for the unattractive actions performed by the marginalized group, I felt the protest was worthwhile because marching in the below-freezing temperatures only indicated how dedicated we were to achieving social justice for Brandon Brown and other black victims of police brutality. It seems demonstrations for Brandon Brown will be carried out nearly every Saturday in February. Unless the police begin to cooperate, Philadelphia has the potential to become another Ferguson.