It’s been just over a week since 18-year-old unarmed teen, Mike Brown, was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Brown’s story has triggered daily and nightly protests in the city, but the issue isn’t just racial.
Yes, Brown was Black teen, shot by 28-year-old Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a White officer, although the exact actions that led to the killing are unclear. Witnesses say the teen surrendered only to be shot by the officer. A preliminary autopsy shows that Wilson hit Brown six times, shooting one final and fatal bullet into his head.
There is still a long process ahead, however. The incident is being investigated by both local and federal authorities, and the Justice Department will be conducting an additional autopsy on Brown’s body.
While Wilson remains on paid administrative leave, which is common protocol for police-involved shootings, one father can relate to the loss that Brown’s parents are experiencing. Michael Bell’s 21-year-old son, also named Michael, was shot dead by a cop outside of his home 10 years ago.
After police in Kenosha, Wis., shot my 21-year-old son to death outside his house ten years ago — and then immediately cleared themselves of all wrongdoing — an African-American man approached me and said: “If they can shoot a white boy like a dog, imagine what we’ve been going through.
I could imagine it all too easily, just as the rest of the country has been seeing it all too clearly in the terrible images coming from Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown. On Friday, after a week of angry protests, the police in Ferguson finally identified the officer implicated in Brown’s shooting, although the circumstances still remain unclear.
I have known the name of the policeman who killed my son, Michael, for ten years. And he is still working on the force in Kenosha.
Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.
I got the phone call at 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2004. It was my oldest daughter. She said you need to come to the hospital right away, Michael’s been shot by the police. My first gut reaction was, “Michael doesn’t do anything serious enough to get shot by a police officer.” I thought he’d gotten shot in the leg or whatever. When I arrived, I saw the district attorney huddled with about five police officers. The last time I saw my son alive he was on a gurney, with his head wrapped in a big towel and blood coming out of it. I learned that an officer had put his gun up directly to Michael’s right temple and misfired, then did it again, and shot him.
Bell, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, says that he “cautioned patience”throughout the process, yet within 48 hours, the shooting officers was cleared of wrongdoing. It was claimed that the shooting victim reached for his gun, yet no fingerprints or DNA evidence were found to corroborate that story.
Six years later, Bell and his family were awarded a $1.75 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. He used his portion of the money to continue campaigning for more “police accountability” in Wisconsin, but when his voice wasn’t heard (he contacted Oprah, the Associated Press, and more), Bell launched a website with the help of a former New York police detective. He also placed the ad, “When police take a life, should they investigate themselves?” in various national newspapers.
Earlier this year Wisconsin passed a law requiring police shootings to be investigated by outside agencies, becoming the first state in the nation to do so. Bell maintains that he’s not “anti-police,” and he’s not alone. Some Wisconsin officers and police unions supported the legislation.
See more of Bell’s story below.
Photo: Mike Bell