If you have followed the aftermath of the August 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, then you have most likely seen the image of his stepfather holding a makeshift cardboard sign that reads, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!” You have likely seen the photo of Brown’s mother staring into the camera, her husband encircling her neck with his arm, her eyes swollen to slits after what must have been hours of crying and asking questions that went unanswered.
The grief-stricken face of the parent is everywhere in moments like this, these too frequent moments when a young person loses his or her life to the senseless, ceaseless fear and hatred that black bodies arouse. It seems to matter little what that body is doing at the time it’s mowed down. Approaching a stranger’s porch to ask for help, listening to music with friends, walking home from the corner store—no activity is safe from the knee jerk responses set off by racial hatred or implicit bias. Whatever the preceding action, a human being is dead and his or her parents are left to convince the public and the courts that their offspring had a right to expect another day on earth.
Often such events are covered as a story about race, police violence, white supremacy or laws that protect murderers from prosecution. But the killing of Michael Brown, like the killing of many young black people before him, is rarely framed as a feminist issue or as an issue of pressing importance to those who advocate for choice, self-determination and dignity as they relate to family life. With this most recent killing, I am wondering what it would take for more people in feminist and reproductive rights circles to begin to think of parents such as Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton and Angela Leisure (a mother whose ordeal I’m especially reminded of in the wake of this latest tragedy) as women they advocate for just as passionately and vigorously as they advocate for a young woman’s right to contraception or an overwhelmed mother of three’s right to an abortion.
This broader perspective has long been that of the reproductive justice movement, whose participants support “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.” And some writers, mostly black women, are explaining why the death of Michael Brown terrifies and infuriates them as mothers. Earlier this week, Stacia Brown posted an entry titled “When Parenting Feels Like a Fool’s Errand” on her blog. She writes: