Michael Brown Sr., whose unarmed son died in a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, spoke at “The Social Justice Seminar: Confronting Racism and Healing Our Communities,” on Wednesday night at the Indiana Memorial Union. In the audience, a cross-legged Hispanic girl sat to hear a story that was all too familiar.
Bella Chavez, an IU senior from the South Side of Chicago, listened intently. She wore Aztec print anklets, which she had bought from the Hispanic neighborhood Little Village in Chicago. She thought of her uncle, Miguel Angeles Chavez, who was shot and killed by a police officer last June.
“I went through a very similar experience that Michael Brown Sr., went through, so I’m here to hear his story and how he dealt with it,” said Chavez.
Chavez, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, shared her first-hand experience with racism. Her family moved to Elkhart, Indiana, where she encountered bigotry after only two months of living there.
“Somebody spray-painted our van with the words ‘spic’ and ‘go back to Mexico’” said Chavez.
She said the incident solidified her mistrust in police.
“They (the police) didn’t take the threat very seriously,” she said. “What I had already seen about police growing up in the South Side of Chicago, I was still seeing here in Elkhart, Indiana.”
After her uncle died, Chavez said the police officers were not polite when they dealt with her family. This is a sentiment Michael Brown Sr., shared in his speech.
“Police really disrespected my family,” said Brown. “They really did.”
While the grieving father and niece shared similar experiences, they did not share the same beliefs about police power in America.
Chavez is outspokenly anti-police. She believes the whole system needs to be abolished, and has its roots in racial prejudice.
“Slave owners needed to take care of their runaway slaves, and that’s how the institution of policing started in America,” said Chavez.
Brown had a different view of police. While he remains skeptical of policing in the United States, he said that he wasn’t against police officers themselves.
“Call them when you need them,” said Brown.
Brown did suggest some measures that can be taken to avoid police brutality. He proposed that citizens should ride with police officers to make sure they are doing their job.
During the Q & A session of the seminar, Chavez approached the microphone to ask keynote speaker Michael Brown Sr., a question. She asked what we should do to stop innocent people from being killed by police.
“We need to get the right people to police the people in our own communities,” said Brown.
Featured Photo Credit: Alvernia University