By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
Why did Philadelphia cops kill Brandon Tate-Brown? Why did police pull over his car, since he had committed no crime? And what were the names of the officers who shot the young Black man?
His mother, Tanya Brown-Dickerson, has been searching for answers. “Brandon was a beautiful and spirited young man,” Brown told a reporter for Roots. “All he wanted was to laugh and have fun. He didn’t want to die. … He would never be confrontational with police.”
More than two months after the Dec. 15 killing, the police department finally allowed Brown-Dickerson and her attorneys to view a video taken at the scene. The footage revealed that the young Black man was not carrying a weapon when he was shot in the back of the head. The video and statements by witnesses contradict the account of the incident that police gave to the press.
The killing of Brandon Tate-Brown appears to fit readily into the pattern that we saw with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the strangling of Eric Garner in New York, and similar cases in which police have cut down Black people with abandon. These atrocities have motivated tens of thousands to protest the systematized racism at their core and to raise the call, “Black lives matter!”
There is some justification for the belief that Tate-Brown was pulled over for “driving while Black” with a new car in a mainly white neighborhood. Such arbitrary traffic stops are not out of the question under Philadelphia’s stop and frisk policy—the most rigorous of any big city in the nation. A report released last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys found that at least 37 percent of the over 200,000 stops by Philadelphia police in 2014 were done without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. And although Blacks and Latinos make up 54 percent of the city’s population, over 80 percent of the stops involved people from these groupings.
In the early hours of Dec. 15, Brandon Tate-Brown, a 26-year-old employee at a car rental agency, was returning home in a late-model Dodge Charger when police officers pulled him over and asked him to step out of the car. Several minutes later, Tate-Brown was dead.
Within weeks of the confrontation, the still unnamed cops who were involved were exonerated of any blame by the police department and returned to street duty. The police department attempted to quell public indignation over the killing with a terse statement to the press. They said that the officers had pulled over Tate-Brown’s car because the headlights were out. Then, when the cops approached the car, they saw a handgun lying on top of its center console. After they asked the victim to step out, he struggled with them and ran back to the car to retrieve the gun. The police then opened fire, allegedly to protect themselves.
However, Tanya Brown-Dickerson and her attorney, Brian Mildenberg, found from their investigations that the autopsy report, the video, and statements from witnesses all contain major differences from the version of the story released publicly by police officials.
The video demonstrated, for one thing, that the car’s headlights were on at the time the police stopped it. Moreover, headlights were not even mentioned in the medical examiner’s autopsy report.
The autopsy report stated that the officers had asked Tate-Brown to step out of his car because they had run his plates and found they were registered to a different car-rental agency than the one that the victim had mentioned to them. One of the officers noticed the gun, the report stated, after he and his partner had approached the car a second time—not upon their initial approach, as police officials repeatedly maintained.
According to the head of the city’s Police Advisory Commission, witnesses at the scene have stated that at one point the cops and the victim struggled, and that Tate-Brown managed to break free. He was grabbed again by the officers, but was able to escape a second time and was shot from behind as he ran toward the car.
In recent days, Tanya Brown-Dickerson and her attorney have been permitted to view the witness statements for themselves. Mildenburg told the Philadelphia Daily News on March 1 that the files reveal that none of the witnesses saw Tate-Brown with a gun. One witness stated that as the cops trained their weapons on Tate-Brown and demanded to be told where his gun was, the victim claimed that he had no gun at all.
“We’re trying to uncover the truth,” Mildenberg told the Daily News. “But when the officers are constantly changing the story and the police department is releasing various stories at different points in time, it leads to the question of whether the investigation is being handled with integrity or whether details and embellishments are being added to protect the officers involved and paint the shooting as justified.”
In meetings, rallies, and marches, protesters have supported the demands of Tanya Brown-Dickerson and her attorney that the police release all the evidence so that a full investigation can be conducted of what happened on Dec. 15. On Feb. 21, about 100 protesters braved falling snow and freezing temperatures to rally at the site of Brandon Tate-Brown’s killing; they then marched to the district police station with their demands.
Tanya Brown-Dickerson spoke at Philadelphia’s Martin Luther King Day protest rally on Jan. 19, where she informed the protesters about efforts to obtain justice for her son. One of the key demands of the rally, sponsored by the MLK-DARE coalition, was “End Stop and Frisk!” The coalition’s next major event will be an April 4 March Against Poverty; protesters will proceed through a section of Philadelphia’s Black community to a rally near Broad and Erie Streets.
Photo: Tanya Brown-Dickerson speaks to a Feb. 21 rally at the site of her son’s killing. (From Real Justice coalition.)