Interview with Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the sister of Kevin Brown, who was shot and killed in 2007 by Austin Police Department Sergeant Michael Olson. In this interview, Brown shares the trauma of losing her brother to police violence and her mother to cancer within months of each other. She discusses her work with Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ), fighting for justice in the midst of grief, and other losses her family has suffered due to police violence. She shares what advocacy and justice mean to her, and her thoughts on the relationship between black communities and police in America. This interview took place on July 15, 2017 in Austin, Texas, at the residence of Angela Brown.
ANGELA BROWN: Yes. I'm Angela Brown, from Austin, Texas. I'm about 28 years old, single mother of two. And something like that.
HENERY: Were you born in Austin?
BROWN: Yes. I'm born and raised Austin.
HENERY: Born and raised in Austin.
BROWN: Yes ma'am.
HENERY: And can you tell me a little bit about your childhood?
BROWN: Well, I have four brothers, four sisters. All my brothers are from my dad's side, and one sister's from my mom. And then, I have three sisters from my mom. We all kind of started growing up together, and then, eventually split. But, I mean, I had a pretty good childhood. Pretty normal. Very active in sports, both parents were together until I was about 10, and then, that kind of took a little hit.
HENERY: Can you say more about what happened then?
BROWN: Well, just my dad was kind of going down the wrong path, and my mom decided to pack me and my sister up and leave. And so, that kind of hit me, because I was a daddy's girl. So, I kind of grew up with a little bit of resentment for a while for that. But, when my mom got sick, he came back, and they got back together, and he was with her 'til she passed.
HENERY: And were you raised with your mom here in Austin?
BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
HENERY: And can you tell me about your religious background, or faith background?
BROWN: I'm Christian. I don't like to force my religion on anything, but I do tell people, everything that I've been through, Jesus is the only thing that saved me. Because, after losing my mom and my brother, I was kind of going down the wrong path, but my dad got me back in the church. He's actually a deacon at the church, and he's got me keeping back in the church. And I have my kids in church, performing in church. So, we love us some church.
HENERY: And can you say more about that experience as a child?
BROWN: Being in the church?
HENERY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BROWN: Well, there's 36 of us grandkids, and my grandfather was mason — I don't know if I can say that. But, my grandfather was mason, and my grandmother was in it too, but they didn't really talk about it too much. But, we were at church every Sunday, from, I think church would open at seven, and we would leave at like three. So, I pretty much grew up in the church. So, yeah.
HENERY: All right. And what about your teen years?
BROWN: My teen years were good. Good grades, I worked, I was very active, I was a social butterfly. I think once I hit senior year, that was my toughest year, because that's when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. So, I can say that was, from anything, the hardest teen year that I experienced.
HENERY: And can you elaborate a little bit on—
BROWN: Her cancer? Yeah. I can remember we were getting ready for school, and she had asked me to feel her hip, or her side, and when I felt it, it was like hitting a rock. It was so hard. But, she was like, "I don't feel any pain." And I told her just go to the doctor. Just to double check. And she went, and come to find out, she had multiple tumors on both sides of her liver. And then, within six months, I think, she was gone.
HENERY: And what year was this?
BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
HENERY: And can you — This was a big year for you in general.
BROWN: Oh, yes. I graduated in May. My brother was murdered by a police officer in 2007 in June. And then, two months later, in August, my mom passed away from cancer. So, that's when I started going down the wrong path, and rebellion, because that's when I was mad at God. But then, like I said, that's when my dad stepped in, and got me back focused on church, and got me back in church, and then, I had my daughter. That was a blessing, because she pretty much saved my life.
HENERY: Yeah. And so, the loss of your brother happened in June of 2007. Can you take me back a little bit into the turn of that year? Do you remember New Years? Where you were in January?
BROWN: Before it happened?
HENERY: Yeah. Any memories that come back.
BROWN: Break from — I think it was winter break.
HENERY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BROWN: I tried to, I guess, escape. So, I went on a trip with me and my cousin. We just went out of town, just to get away. But, it didn't last long, because my mom was still getting very ill. But, around that time, I was just trying to do anything to escape.
HENERY: Yeah. And what was the day-to-day life like? You were just living with your mom?
BROWN: I was living with my mom, and then, my sisters, they all moved in the house. And then, one sister literally quit her job to become her 24-hour nurse. And then, my nieces — We're around the same age as well; they lived there. So, it was like a big slumber party the whole time. But, we were around-the-clock nurses for my mom; feeding her, taking her to appointments, changing her, bathing her. Pretty much, it was a 24-hour hospital at the house.
HENERY: Was this the first time you had had to confront a serious illness, or a family member with a serious illness?
BROWN: Yeah, because I was — I mean, my grandma, when I was in second grade — I think that was the first time I really like, "Oh my gosh." Because we were so close, and then, she died from cancer. I had another cousin who, right after that, was murdered in that same neighborhood. So, those two were my first big deaths that I had to deal with. And then, I had an uncle who committed suicide as well. But, the one with my mom — Because, my fear was always losing a parent. That was one of my biggest fears. And then, so when it happened, I was just like, "Well, now what?" You know?
HENERY: And so, the spring was a process of attending to your mom, and going to school, and making sense of— [inaudible]
BROWN: Yeah, I would use school as my distraction. I'd go there and stay late. I would be the — What was I? The trainer for the football team. I was the trainer there, because I wanted extra activities to do. And then, I did the basketball managing. And she would actually come to the games. She was still sick and all that, but I was — Yeah. Basically, just trying to stay focused on school, and escape home life at the time.
MATT GOSSAGE: One second, I'm sorry.
BROWN: Am I doing okay? Because whenever I stop, I'm like, "Okay."
GOSSAGE: Okay, thanks. All set.
HENERY: Okay. So, who were you turning to for support during that period? Did you have a source of support during that period?
BROWN: My sisters. We became each others' rock. If I didn't have my sisters, I probably would be in a grave next to my mom. My sisters were my support system. And then, when the actual funeral came, all of my sisters — It was the two oldest in the front, and then me, and the one that's right above me, and we all just locked arms, and just held each other up. So, that was my support system. My confidants.
HENERY: And that was that summer—
BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
HENERY: —in 2007.
BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
HENERY: Can you lead us up into June? And when you got the news about your brother's death?
BROWN: We were watching TV, like normal. I think it was about 10 o'clock at night, and the news came on, and it was a news coverage of two police officers walking up to a young man outside of a night club, and then, you see the young man run off. And then, you see, I guess, the body cam of it shaking, and then you hear gun shots. And then, you hear him screaming, "Help me. Please, I don't want to die. Flip me over." And then, you hear about four or five more gunshots. The whole time we're watching it, I didn't even know that was my brother. I just thought it was just another citizen that was going through it, until my dad called, and he was like, "Did you just see what they did to your brother?" And then, I just dropped the phone and just started crying. Yeah.
HENERY: And who was with you in the room?
BROWN: My mom. She was actually — She was real sick, but she just said, "What if that's your brother?" Because, like I said, we knew two other people named Kevin Brown. And then, I hadn't talked to my brother in a couple years. And then, literally five minutes later, that's when the phone rang, and my dad was like, "That was your brother." So, that was — It was kind of like an out-of-body experience, to where you're looking at it, and you're watching what's going on, and you know it's loud, and the noise just fades out, and you're just standing there, like, "No."
HENERY: What was the next 24 hours like?
BROWN: A lot of crying. Pretty much a lot of crying. A lot of crying, and I went to go see his mom. And then, my other brother, because they have the same mom, and they grew in the same house together. So, I went to go see him. And he was just — Oh, man. I had never seen him cry, and he was just — He wouldn't stop. And then, my nephew — We didn't get to spend too much time together, that was my first time really meeting him, and I guess they did a good job telling him that my brother was going to be with God, because he was like, "Come on in! Let's say bye to my dad so he can go be in heaven," and, "Da, da, da, da."
But, yeah. It was tough; those next few days. And then, my dad; I've never seen him cry, and he was just like, "Losing a child is something you never, ever, ever want to experience." And then, when the actual funeral came, that whole out-of-body experience, my dad was just like, "That's my child I'm burying." So, it was rough. It was so rough. And then, the media; they would park outside the door — I mean, not outside the door. Down the street, video taping, or trying to get comments, and stuff like that. So, it was hectic. Black Panthers got involved. The man — I can't remember his name, from the NAACP, he came, and was an advocate for our family. So, it was a real traumatic experience at that time.
HENERY: And what— if I remember correctly, the funeral was on Friday. Is that correct, it was the Friday following?
BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
HENERY: What was that week like? And how involved were you with the media and the police, and—
BROWN: Well, I didn't want to do anything with the police. I was just, "I don't want to talk to them. I don't want to see them. I don't want to even think of police right now." So, my dad and his mom were the main advocates, I guess; reps for the family. And they got together with the man from the NAACP, and then, they dealt with the media. I pretty much tried to stay out of it, too. Because, not only was I dealing with that, I was stressed from my mom being sick. So, yeah. My dad did most of the—
HENERY: Most of it.
BROWN: Most of it with the media.
HENERY: And can you talk about, from your understanding, what ensued that night with your brother and the police?
BROWN: Well, what we were told was someone made a random phone call just saying that my brother had a gun on him. But, come to find out, they never found a gun on him. And they were saying that he was running, pulling up his pants like he was going to try and throw the gun, or something like that. But, that's — Pretty much, someone made a false call to the police, and now, my brother's dead because of it.
HENERY: And did you follow the media coverage of it as it —
BROWN: I did. I even watched some of it at work when they released the audio from when he was pleading for his life. But then, after that, it just pissed me off, so I couldn't watch any more of it. There was a time where I just — When all those police shootings would come on, I couldn't watch it, because it hit so close to home. But, I'm like, "Can't run scared anymore. At least, if I can help, then I gotta do it."
HENERY: And what was it like at work? You went back to working.
BROWN: Well, it was a distraction. I literally tried to keep myself busy. I just kept telling them, "Give me work. Give me work. Let me do double hours if I can. Give me work." But, it was hard, because people would learn that I was his sister. And then, so they would ask me, Okay, what is this?, or, How did this happen?, and, Da, da, da, da. So, it became very stressful, on top of the stress that I was already under.
HENERY: And when you say "work", were you in school and working at the same time?
BROWN: No, I had just graduated—
HENERY: You had just graduated— okay you'd just graduated.
BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I just graduated, and had to hurry up and get a job, because I knew my mom was passing. I was going to have to help with the bills, so—
HENERY: And, at that point, what was the state of your mom?
BROWN: She was already given to the end of the summer, beginning of November. And she had already started her experimental medication. She didn't do chemo; they did, basically, chemo in a pill. And, at the time, it was still experimental. And, apparently, it didn't work. But, that's where she was. She was in bed. She couldn't, pretty much do — The last major thing that she was able to do was my graduation. She said, "I'm going to watch you walk." She was sick, and she was fragile, but she sat up there, and she watched me walk the stage. And then, after that, it was just bed rest for the rest of the time.
HENERY: And I imagine you still have the clear image of seeing her.
BROWN: Yeah, I do. But, it was hard, because I was watching her leave her body. It wasn't my mom. She stopped being able to remember us. Sorry. She stopped being able to remember — Well, not us, but other people. And every time me and my sisters come in, we'd be like, "Mom, you still remember who we are?" She'd be like, "Yeah. My babies." But, it was watching her turn into a whole different person. Yeah. It was rough.
HENERY: All right. So, the funeral for your brother, I imagine she did not attend.
BROWN: She didn't. She was at home. But, me and his mom, actually, grew close, so the images that were released on the media, you can see me and his mom walking out, and I'm trying to hold her up. Yeah. But, no. My mom, she — We just went home and told her about it. Yeah.
HENERY: What were the conversations like with Kevin's mom?
BROWN: She would just say, "I don't know what went wrong. I prayed so much. I prayed that God would protect my baby." She would say, "I'm not blaming God, but why did this happen? I prayed, you know, every time he left. I knew what he did, I was that praying mom, and he was still taken away." And then, she would say she would regret that we didn't have that much of a relationship. It wasn't bad blood, it was a split family. And she was just saying she wished that we all could have had more time.
HENERY: And what about the funeral? Can you tell me a little bit about the funeral?
BROWN: It was crazy. It was media all across the street; packed to where people were standing outside during the funeral, because it was crazy. People were upset; they were mad that another life was lost due to police brutality. So, it was very chaotic. But, on the inside, it was a good way to send him home.
HENERY: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I had read that there were t-shirts that were made?
BROWN: Oh, yeah. And I wish I had the other one. My brother that, he grew up in the same house, he has maybe 12 shirts of them two together, or just my brother, "RIP". And then, we were still supposed to go get some more shirts made for his birthday, or whatever. But, yes. Everyone had either shirts, balloons, hats; he was very loved. Even a rapper in Houston said something about him in his song, or whatever. It was like, "Aww."
HENERY: He was friends with him? Or, had heard about him?
BROWN: No, he just heard about it, and actually took the time to acknowledge how it was bad that it happened. And our family just went through it again. Another cousin of mine just was murdered by police on 6th Street. I don't know if you guys heard it.
HENERY: No. Could you tell us more about that?
BROWN: Landon. He was down on 6th Street, and you can see — There is a little bit of coverage about it. But, you can see, I guess, the guys that he was with was getting into it with some other guys. And then, they kind of zoom in on somebody jump up, but when he jumps up, you hear a gunshot. And then, they go back to my cousin, and he's still just walking around. And then, it cuts, and then you just see my cousin's body on the floor. And then, you just hear people in the back saying, "Oh my god! They killed him! They killed him!" So, we just had another funeral for a family member being killed by a police officer again.
HENERY: And when was this?
BROWN: This was last month, because I had to miss — Yeah. Miss work. So, it was last month.
HENERY: And it's on your dad's or your mom's side of the family?
BROWN: It's on my dad's side. No, my dad's side.
HENERY: And was your dad present?
BROWN: Yeah. He did end up going to the funeral. And then, we had to — I'm sorry.
BROWN: Oh, I'm just saying, we did fundraisers to raise money for the funeral cost, and everything. I didn't get to make it to the funeral. I'm so tired of funerals. It's just — I don't know. But, it just happened — Had the same issue again. But, it didn't make it as public as my brother's did. But, yeah.
HENERY: And, going back in time, you mentioned a cousin, too, who was murdered?
BROWN: Yeah. That's who I'm talking about; Landon. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
HENERY: Okay. Gotcha.
BROWN: He was down on 6th Street with his friends. And then, they heard a gunshot. And then, another guy just stepped forward on the news saying that he was there when everyone was running away from the shots, and he saw my cousin run away. He saw the police throw a bike to where my cousin would flip and fall over it, and that's when they shot him in the back. But, I guess, apparently, it wasn't enough, because nothing else was done.
HENERY: And has there been conversation in the family?
BROWN: Oh, yeah. I haven't gotten to talk to his mom. She's having a hard time with it. But, yeah. It was a lot of conversations about it. But, it's to the point where we don't know what to do to make it stop, because we're just getting picked off left and right. And I'm scared, because my son, growing up as a black man already, he already has a target on his back. So, it's just, this world's not good.
HENERY: And is all the family here in Austin, for the most part?
BROWN: Majority of it. Majority of my family is. It's a huge family, so we do have some on the outskirts; like Jasper, and Lake Jackson, and everything. But majority of my family is down here.
HENERY: Gotcha. And so, is the conversation about police violence in Austin present in family get-togethers, or is that kept outside?
BROWN: It is. No, it is. We talk about it. But, I'm the only one that's actually going outside of the family to bring more awareness to it. But, it is conversations when we get together about it, and we express how much we want to continue to see each other, because they're just picking us off. It seems like every time we get together, we're discussing how we miss a new family member because he's been murdered. You know?
HENERY: And can you talk about what's come out of this for you?
BROWN: I'm just trying to be strong for my kids, and teach them the harsh reality of this world. It sucks that I have to tell them that at this age, but it's making me be a lot more cautious, more aware, and just make sure I try and raise them up as best I can. Because, as you can tell, we getting picked off left and right. So, it's just making me be more — Like, I feel like I have to be superwoman to keep them in order, and in line. But, it's making me want to reach out more, and, I guess, talk about it more, and bring more awareness to it, because I'm tired of having to bury a family member, or a friend, and nothing being done; people saying how it hurts, or it's this, that, and the third, but then, they continue along with their life until the next story. So, I'm just trying to, whatever I can to try and get it to stop. Do that.
HENERY: What have been some of the means that you've done?
BROWN: Joining TAJ. Sharing my story with them. Learning more about the system, and how it's working. Just, a lot of educating myself. And then, I can go to my next move, which I'm still trying to figure out. But, in the meantime, I'm just educating myself.
HENERY: And can you tell us what TAJ is?
BROWN: TAJ is Texas Advocates for Justice. It's basically those who have been wronged by the justice system, lost family members due to police brutality, those who may have lost family to immigration or deportation; all of us come together and share our stories, reach out to the community, see what we can do in the community to try and make those changes, and bring it to legislation to try and get some of those things that we see in the community being talked about, and cried about, and we're actually trying to bring it to the forefront to get stuff done about it, and get new laws done to prevent all that that's going on in the community.
HENERY: And how did you get involved with them?
BROWN: Well, Lewis Conway; he's like a mentor to me. When he wrote his first book, called Change the Weather, I read that, and then, he started to mentor me, and then he heard my story, and said that I will probably be a good fit for the organization. So, I went to all the trainings, and the meetings, and found a second home there. Because it's so many people from all different walks of life, but we all have one unique story that kind of brings us together.
HENERY: What were some of the initial experiences, moving into that space, and talking with people? Anything come to mind?
BROWN: We all shared that we've all had labels put on us, because of either past mistakes, or — Like my situation, deaths in the family. I've met other people who've had similar situations with deaths in the families. I've met people who have been affected by ICE. I never really knew about ICE until I became a TAJ advocate. So, I'm learning a lot more of not just my background, but so many different people from walks of life, what they go through. And it's been real interesting. Very interesting. But, I like it.
HENERY: Any particular stories or individuals that come to mind, that really spoke to you when you first joined, or as you moved through it?
BROWN: There's this one lady who — She just would always say how she was homeless, and how she went from different mental institutes, and institutions, and how she had a baby, and — She just shared her story, but she always had a smile on her face when she shared it. That always stuck out to me, because I'm like, "She's telling us how she probably has to go sleep in her car tonight with her baby, but yet, she's here with a smile, being sweet, and nice." And I'm like — She was one that I think I really connected to.
HENERY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BROWN: Yeah. [inaudible]
HENERY: So, I want to go back to the summer when Kevin was killed, because it was a big summer.
BROWN: Oh, yeah.
HENERY: And have you walk us through a little bit more about what else happened in your life that summer.
BROWN: Right after he was murdered, my mom had her doctor's appointment, and we thought it was going to be telling us that she was in remission. But then, she came home, and she was like, "Can you guys sit at the table?" From there, I knew something was — It wasn't right. So then, she was like, "Well, the doctor told me I have until the end of the summer, beginning of November to live." And just that conversation alone, my whole life was flipped upside down. Then, she got on her medication, and then, we just became nurses around the clock. I'd go to school, I had a part-time job, then I'd come home, take care of my mom, and then, get up every day and do it until the summer. Then I was just working, come home, take care of my mom until her last days, and then she passed away one night when I wasn't at home.
They called me and just told me to come home, and when I pulled up, I could hear the ambulance pulling off. And then, my dad just told me, "She's gone." And I passed out in his arms, right when she told me, I mean right when he told me. And then, from there, it was just trying to figure out what else — Because I was just hit. My mom was my rock. I didn't know what to do with my life. But, I just got to work. I think that's why I'm like that now; I just work to kill the pain, or distract myself. And that's what I did.
HENERY: And what was your relationship with your dad like at that point in the face of so much loss?
BROWN: It was still kind of distant, because I was a daddy's girl when I was young, and then he was gone; he didn't come back until I was 18, so it was still kind of like, "You're my dad, but you've been gone." And so, it was still kind of awkward. And then, I started to rebel so, he would try and tell me what to do, or — Looking at it as a parent now, I know he was looking out for me. Excuse me. But, at the time, I was just rebelling. I was just like, "Whatever. You weren't here for da, da, da. Mom was here. Da, da, da." And I feel so bad for being that way, but it was just me rebelling. But now, our relationship is excellent. My kids, that's their world. And he loves them. So, our relationship has gotten way better. Way better.
HENERY: And did you live with him following your mom's death? Or did you —
BROWN: He moved in with us. They got back together when she started getting worse, and she lost her job, and lost her insurance. So, he actually came down here and he would drive from our house to San Antonio every morning just to go to work and come home; but, he did that so he could put her on her insurance, so she can still get the care and medication that she needed. And then, yeah. He took it real hard, because he actually got into a bad car accident the next night after she passed, because dealing with it — He hit a tree. Yeah. So, it was rough. Sorry.
HENERY: And did the two of you talk about the losses at that point?
BROWN: We did, but I was shut down. So, he just told me I should talk to somebody, but, I would shut down. I didn't want to do it. So, it was — I don't know, it was just strained. I just ran away from all of it, his advice, his — All of it. Until I had my daughter. And then, I was like, "Okay, I'm a parent now, I see what you mean. I see. I understand." But, yeah. We talk about it, sometimes, now. Or, I'll say — Certain stuff will happen, I'll be like, "Oh, Mama would have liked this." Or, "Mom, da, da, da, da, da." But, at first, you couldn't get me to say almost anything except, "Well, if she was here, then this would be done." Or, "Da, da, da, da, da." But, yeah. It's easier now.
HENERY: And do you talk about Kevin? Or, did you talk about Kevin at this point?
BROWN: We did for a little bit, but he took that real bad too. So, he's — I guess that's where I get it from. He won't talk about it, he distracts hisself. So, that's kind of how it was. We talked about it when everything settled. I mean, we had his pictures up everywhere, but it was kind of like it was there, but it wasn't discussed as much.
HENERY: Did you follow the investigation as it moved forward, and —
BROWN: I did. I got the majority of my information from my dad, but, yeah; every news coverage, I watched it until I couldn't anymore. Every negative thing they said, the little bit of positive stuffs that they said. I followed all that. But, like I said, when they started releasing the dash cam, and you can hear him begging for his life, that's when I was like, "I can't. I can't do it anymore."
HENERY: And do you remember the last time you saw your brother? Spoke to him?
BROWN: It's funny; we were down 6th Street, at a corner store, and he was trying to holler at me. From behind he didn't know that I was his sister until I turned around. And he was like, "Oh! That's my baby sister, never mind!" But, that was the last time I saw him. And then, two years later, that's when that happened.
HENERY: Gotcha. Okay. Can you tell us about him? About who he was as a person, to you, and in general?
BROWN: He was always a character. You know, the guy that — We didn't get to spend, like I said, too much time together, but when we were around each other, he was always nonchalant, he wasn't mean, he was just funny. That's really all I can remember, is when I was around him, he was just funny. But, I hate that that's all I can remember. And that all that time was taken away. But, at least I have that memory of him being funny.
HENERY: And so, how old were you when he kind of came into your life?
BROWN: We were — Because it was when my cousin was murdered. So, I think I was in like fifth grade — Fourth — I think by fifth grade when I first actually met them. It was after the funeral of my cousin. You know how families get together at a relative’s house, and my dad was like, "These are your older brothers." I would see pictures of them, but we never met. And then, that's when we finally met. And then, a little bit when we were in high school — Or, I was in middle school, they were in high school, because I went to their high school, but they graduated two years before I got there, so we still kind of had, I guess, the same crowd of friends. But, we never got to really just have that relationship relationship until, actually, Kevin died, and my other brother that he grew up with, was by hisself. And we were always like, "Well, you have sisters. You have your other brothers. Start coming around over here." And he would come over almost every weekend, and got a relationship with my kids and all that. Yeah.
HENERY: How do you experience him now?
BROWN: Who, Kevin? I just, I try and remember the funny part. When I pray, I pray that he is in a better place, he's watching over my nephew. And I just pray that what I'm doing is — He's kind of like, "Thanks, sis." Be that voice that I could be. So, I'm trying. But, I think that's how I try and keep his spirit alive, by doing stuff like this, and being a part of TAJ, because I can keep that voice. And, hopefully, one day, something will actually change, to where families don't have to deal with this. So, I'm hoping I'm making him proud by continuing to do this, and be a voice for him. Oh, I hate crying.
HENERY: And what does advocacy mean for you?
BROWN: Basically, having a voice for those who don't. That's just the bottom line. Those who either can't because they were killed, or too scared, or don't have the means. To be an advocate, is basically saying, "I'ma go above and beyond the," — I don't know the right word for it, but, "Whatever it is to stop me. I'm going to be this advocate. And be that voice." Basically, just giving a voice to those who can't have one.
HENERY: And what about the idea of justice? Do you think justice was served?
BROWN: No. Because, you can always give someone money, and it can run out. But, you can never bring a person back from the dead. You can never fully heal from losing a person. Money; money is nothing compared to a life. And, the fact that that officer, he still gets to walk around, and probably take his kids to Disney World, or do this, and do that; he can't be an officer again, but he can go and get another job. But, my nephew, he can't hug his dad again, you know? And it's still happening. And I think, as long as it's still happening, then there's no justice being served. Not just for my brother, but for all those other family members who's going through it. So, not yet, but I'm trying to work on it.
HENERY: And how do you think about justice now?
BROWN: Like, how do I want it to be?
HENERY: What is justice to you?
BROWN: I'm still trying to figure it out, because I feel like I haven't seen it. Justice, in my brother's case, was giving us money, and firing a police officer. Justice, to me, I think, would be all those police officers who either have done wrong behind closed doors; something being done to them. Changes within the justice system; less punishment for those who barely have crimes, but you have murderers and rapists who get less time than somebody that may have a gram of marijuana. Just saying, it’s out there. But, I just think our whole justice system is not justice; it's injustice. It's unfair. So, I can't really say what justice would be like, because I don't think I've ever seen it.
HENERY: And did your perception change about the criminal justice system from before death?
BROWN: Oh, yeah. Because I thought police were actually there to protect and serve. And now, I hate to say it, but when I look at every police officer — You just never know. Like, I'm to the point to where, if I get pulled over, I'm pulling over where there's — If it's at night time, you gonna ride with me until I get to a parking lot full of people. I'm going to have someone on the phone with me, letting them know my location. Because it's not, you can't trust them anymore. I feel like all they do is, they're just there to kill. So, I don't — Police officers, I go the other way. And it sucks, because they're the ones supposed to be who you call whenever you need help, or you're in danger, and it's now, I don't even feel safe doing that.
HENERY: And how do you think about race in the midst of all of this?
BROWN: I think, of course, it's still out there. But, nowadays, I do see more — How can I say it — More individuals from different backgrounds coming together. Which, I feel like we've come a long way, but it's still there. I still have been called the n-word before, cussed out by different races. But, I mean, it's still there. It's just, it's gotten a little better. And we still have a ways to go.
HENERY: And the relationship between police and black communities across this country?
BROWN: Ugh. It's horrible. It's horrible. I literally feel like we just have a target on our back. Whether you're a man or woman, if you are of colored skin, you have a target on your back. And it sucks, and it's crazy, because I used to be like, "How would I be if I was born back then where it was worse, to where you were getting fire-hosed by police officers and all that. And I was like, "I don't know, I probably couldn't survive." But it's like nowadays, you're starting to see that, but instead of a fire hose, it's bullet shots. It's just scary, walking in streets sometimes can be scary being black. But, I have God on my side, so I don't want to walk around with fear. That's the reason why I try to be a voice to those who don't.
HENERY: And do you have thoughts as to where you want to take your advocacy?
BROWN: I'm all new to this. But, I don't know. I just want to learn as much as I can, and see where I can take it. But, I do know it's to fix this justice system; this crooked justice system. Whatever I can do, whether it's write down my name on a piece of paper, and be that one more signature that they need, or to go in front of legislature and share the story that my family went through; just my voice, as far as getting this justice system fixed to where we don't have to walk around feeling like we've got a target on our back, that's where I want it to focus.
HENERY: Beyond your brother, have you had other experiences with the criminal justice system? Family members, or friends?
BROWN: I've had family members, yeah, who are incarcerated now, who have been given sentences longer than those who should be in there. And writing letters, visiting jails; I've had to do all that. And it's not — It's horrible. Like, even the process of going to visit someone, you have to wait, I guess, 30, 40 minutes just for a 17 minute visit. And then, you have to — It's not a good place to grow up, it's not a good place for kids to be, and I've seen it too often with family members in my family.
HENERY: What do you think the public doesn't know about that experience? Or, if you wish to educate people about the criminal justice system who have never encountered it, what would you share?
BROWN: That it's crooked. I mean, to be blatantly honest, it is. I mean, I've gotten stories from the inside of how they get treated by guards, or how people have gotten stabbed in there. Like, they hide so much stuff, and they try and put on such a front to where — And they just make it so hard for us to even be able to communicate with them. You already have them locked up, but the process to even get a phone call, especially if they're in a prison is — You have to write a paper, and you have to write your names down, you have to wait a couple months to get it approved by boards; like, they make it so difficult. And then, they still torture them on the inside. And someone who's fresh out of, maybe, the suburbs going in for the first time, it is a complete culture shock, and it is so unjust.
I don't see how it's allowed. But then, it's the laws who's running it, so what can you do? I don't know, the system is just horrible. That's why I try and raise my kids to not even have to be in the system, because once you're in, it's hard to get out. And it's hard to have a life afterwards.
HENERY: Do you remember the first time you went to a prison, or a jail?
BROWN: When I was pregnant with my first daughter, to go visit her dad. And it was horrible, because I could only see him through the monitor. So, I had to go in, of course, get patted down, then, you go into another wait room, wait another 20 minutes, just to get lined up, walk there, you see them on a little video screen, they tell you, Oh, you have two minutes. Or, sometimes, they don't even tell you, and then, it just shuts off. And then, you have to wait a whole 'nother week, or two weeks. It's draining, it's sad, and it's not cheap either; because if you want to talk to them on the phone, every phone call is like $10. You can write a letter; sometimes it won't reach them. The guards will open the mail before they get it to them. And then, sometimes, they won't give them their stuff. So, it was not a fun experience. I don't recommend going through jail, or even visitation.
HENERY: And was he locked up after for a period?
BROWN: After I had my daughter?
BROWN: Yes. Did he —. Well, no, after I — Oh, yes; yes, he was. Because that's when I was in my coma. And he didn't know. My sister had to end up writing him, letting him know that, "She's in a coma. She just had the baby," or whatever. But, he got out, I think when she was— a little after she turned one. Yeah. So, her first year was almost me by myself, pretty much. No, he went back twice. He got out when she was a baby, then he went back in right before she turned one.
HENERY: And did you maintain the relationship?
BROWN: As of now, or—
HENERY: At that period with him?
BROWN: We had broken up for about a year, and I didn't talk to him for about a year. And then, we got back together, and then, that's when I had my son. And then, after that, he just kept going left when I was trying to do right. And so, eventually, we split. But, I mean, he's still in their life now.
HENERY: And that was the introduction to what that life was like?
BROWN: Yes. And I was like, "This is not what it is. I don't want my kids in here. I don't want them thinking that this is a natural part of life; going through systems, and having to get patted down, and seeing your loved one through screens, and all that." It's no fun. And it's heartbreaking. It is so heartbreaking.
HENERY: So, at these other family funerals, with the loss that surrounds us as a society these days, particularly around police violence, how do you talk about these issues with your children, and within your family?
BROWN: Well, with my kids, I try — Because my son, he's starting to be three — Or, he's starting to turn four, but he's starting to get a little defiant. And I do talk to him about discipline, and I do let him know that some stuff he can get in trouble with by the police. And it's crazy, but at this age, four-year-old and up, you can go to jail. And so, I'm trying to teach him that, "Stay on the right path, because a police officer gets a hold of you, Mommy can't — I can't do anything about it." But, when it's with the family, it's basically we're discussing who they've taken from us, and just how we miss them.
HENERY: You mentioned a coma; I wanted to follow up on that.
BROWN: Yes. It was in 2009, and it was when the swine flu was out. Do you remember that?
HENERY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BROWN: I caught swine flu and pneumonia while in the hospital. After I left the hospital, I couldn't breathe, so the next day, they took me back. They couldn't find my lungs — Because they were giving me the oxygen, it wasn't reaching my lungs. So, they sedated me, and then when they sedated me, I slipped into a coma and didn't wake up. That was on November 28th, I didn't wake up until December 7th. And that alone was an experience. But, I can tell you, I did get to see my mom while I was on life support. And my sister confirmed that, because she —
Okay, my mom had said something to me, and when I told one of my other sisters that I saw mom while I was under, she stepped out to call my other sister, when the nurses came in, she was like, "Angie told me she saw Mommy, and this is what she said to her." And that sister on the other line was like, "Wait. Did she say this?" She was like, "Yeah, how'd you know?" She's like, "Because Mama came to me in a dream the night before and told me she was going to tell her." And when she came to me, I kept saying, "Mom, don't leave. Don't leave. I want to go with you." And she just kept rubbing my hand like she used to do. And she was like, "Not yet, baby. Not yet." And then, I woke up.
And then, when I went back for my six week check-up, I talked to the doctor, she couldn't tell me the lady's name, but she said another lady came in, exact same thing as me; swine flu, just had a baby, fell into a coma, but she ended up dying. So, I was like, "That stuff on the other side, and people coming — 100%, I could put my hand on the Bible, it's real." But, I think that's what gives me comfort, too. Because I had that little experience, knowing she's still there. But, that was pretty scary, being in a coma. Very scary.
HENERY : So, there's been a lot of death in your life, and a lot of loss.
BROWN: There's still one more I could tell you about, but — The house that we had just moved from, and I swear Matt and them was at as well, but—
HENERY: Can you say that again?
BROWN: Where Matt — When I did my last interview, my uncle, he was in a wheelchair, he was disabled, and I was helping my dad take care of him. He had gotten real sick. And one day, my dad, I just heard him calling me. And I went back there, and he was already picking my uncle up and putting him on the floor. And I had to give him CPR. And while I'm giving him CPR, we have EMS on the phone. And I'm not a doctor, I used to be an MA, but I already know the signs; if you don't feel this, you don't feel this, da, da, da, da, da, they're pretty much gone. So, I'm pretty much giving CPR, and he's already gone. And that just happened last year. So, I'm giving my uncle CPR at our house, and he passed away.
So, yeah. There's been lots and lots of death in my family. A lot. But, that's why I feel like I have to do this type of work, or share my story, because a lot of people wouldn't be able to handle it. But, I don't know, I just want to share how you can still pick yourself up, and keep going. It's tough, but you can do it.
HENERY: And it's all fueled your sense of purpose, I imagine.
BROWN: Yes. It has. I used to be like, "What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do?" And I'm learning that all this death is, I think, God's way of saying, "Use your voice. This is what I need you to do, because there's people who have been in your situation and they can't handle the stuff that I've put you through." So, I'm trying to listen, and be obedient, and get there.
HENERY: Yeah. And you mentioned always being up for learning something new. What's the kind of edge of where your growth is right now, in terms of what you're learning and taking in?
BROWN: You know, I guess when I figure that out, I can let you know. I mean, I don't really know how to answer that. I mean, I'm growing as a young woman, trying to be a teacher in every sense that I can when it comes to death. I don't know, I guess just trying to take my experiences, and just try and just teach, and help others. I hope that was okay. Yeah.
HENERY: And what can you teach us about death in all its forms, from murder?
BROWN: It's not final. And that, one day, you will be with that loved one. This side is just temporary. And I feel like it's just one big test, to where, if you will make it to eternal life, don't be afraid to enjoy life. And then, those that you have lost, just know that they'll be waiting for you when you get there. They'll be there one day. My mom could be right here right now, just on another plane. But, just don't give up. Don't let death defeat you. Defeat death.
HENERY: Yeah. Thank you, Ms. Brown.
BROWN: You're welcome. No problem.
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