Having read the New York Times obituary for Michael Brown, I was as disturbed as many others by the way it was written. As such, I have decided to try my hand at cleaning up the obituary, making it more like what I, at least, would have preferred to read. I attempted, as best I could, to change the tone of the piece, removing some things and changing the context and wording of others. I also added my own sentiment at the end. I hope my attempt is better than what the New York Times put out.
Speaking of… New York Times? You should be ashamed of yourself.
Copyright note: This falls under fair use as it is a critique.
FERGUSON, Mo. — It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. His father and stepmother knew of his sense of humor, so they chuckled at first.
“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”
And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.
In the weeks afterward, until his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, they detected a change in him as he spoke seriously about religion and the Bible. He was grappling with life’s mysteries.
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was like every other teenager. But it was his humor and his happiness that drew people. He regularly flashed a broad smile that endeared those around him. He overcame early struggles in school to graduate on time. He was pointed toward a trade college and a career and, his parents hoped, toward a successful life.
But then came the fatal encounter with Officer Wilson. On that fateful day, Mr. Brown and a friend were walking down the middle of a nearby street when Officer Wilson told them to get on the sidewalk. The police say Mr. Brown hit the officer and scuffled with him over his weapon, leading to his being shot.
Mr. Brown’s friend said he swung after the officer grabbed his neck and was shot after running away, hitting the ground with his hands raised in surrender. He was hit at least six times, twice in the head. His 6-foot-4 frame lay face down in the middle of the warm pavement for hours, a stream of blood flowing down the street.
Mr. Brown was born in May 1996 in the nearby town of Florissant. He was the first child of teenage parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden. Growing up, he lived under one roof with his parents, paternal grandparents and, later, a younger sister.
As a boy, Michael had a penchant for playfulness, artistry, and curiosity. When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it. When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall. He used to tap on the ground, so his parents got him a drum set; his father played the drums. He grew into a polite young man, but his closest friends knew his more playful side.
After his parents split up, he stayed with his mother though he remained close to all of his family, who lived near one another in north St. Louis County.
In the ninth grade at McCluer High School in Florissant, Mr. Brown was falsely accused of stealing an iPod. His mother said she had to go to the High School to show a receipt proving the iPod was his. He left McCluer and went to two other high schools before going to Normandy for most of his final two years.
When his mother moved out of the Normandy District, he moved in with his paternal grandmother so he could remain at that school. But he continued to alternate between his parents and maternal grandmother.
Mr. Brown was like most teenagers his age. One time, his mother gave him her A.T.M. card so he could buy shoes, said Mr. Brown’s friend Brandon Lewis. Mr. Brown bought himself a PlayStation console. His mother made him give the system to his brother.
There were times when her son would talk back, Ms. McSpadden said. She relied on family and friends, including a retired juvenile officer, to help mentor her son.
Like all teenagers, Mr. Brown would rebel against his parents, testing limits. However, some of Mr. Brown’s closest confidants were family members. Mr. Brown’s uncle Bernard Ewing remembers talking to his nephew about how to interact with police officers.
“I let him know like, if the police ever get on you, I don’t care what you doing, give it up,” Mr. Ewing said. “Because if you do one wrong move, they’ll shoot you. They’ll kill you.”
Mr. Lewis said he recalled Mr. Brown getting into one fight. A contemporary they knew from the neighborhood was upset with Mr. Brown because of something Mr. Brown had said to the young man’s girlfriend. So one day the fellow, who was much smaller than Mr. Brown, took a swing at him. Mr. Brown backed up and pushed him back in the face.
“I don’t think Mike ever threw a real punch,” said Mr. Lewis, 19.
The young man’s father confronted Mr. Brown, Mr. Lewis recalled, asking him why he put his hands on his son. Mr. Brown’s father got involved, Mr. Lewis said, and they settled the dispute and went their separate ways. Mr. Brown rarely got into physical confrontations, Mr. Lewis said.
Though he worked hard in school, in his senior year, Mr. Brown was a few credits short. He was enrolled in the school’s credit recovery program, which allows students to work at their own pace to try to catch up.
“It seemed like Mike was probably the person that was the most serious in that class about getting out of Normandy, about graduating,” said Terrence Hamilton, the Normandy athletic director.
After graduating in May, Mr. Brown talked to Mr. Lewis about getting a job at the grocery store where Mr. Lewis worked. He also planned to pursue heating and cooling technician courses at a technical college.
He was an avid video game player. His favorite games were Call of Duty Zombies and PlayStation Home, a simulation game in which he created an avatar and a city. He was deft with technology and his hands. Once, when his cousin’s PlayStation broke because a disc was stuck in it, Mr. Brown took it apart, fixed it and reassembled it.
Mr. Brown, who constantly wore his Beats by Dre headphones, also was a big fan of rap music. He knew of Kendrick Lamar before he became famous. His favorite group was Migos. And within the past year, he began producing rap songs with friends.
Mr. Brown was sometimes philosophical, as he showed in his final hours.
“Everything happen for a reason,” he posted to Facebook the night before he was shot. “Just start putting 2 n 2 together. You’ll see it.”
To his family, his friends, his teachers, and all those who loved him, Michael Brown was an angel. To all of us, Michael Brown is yet another victim of a painful truth: we have not yet come even close to the dreamed about “post-racial” society.
I like this obituary. Good job Nate.
One question though: when you said ‘pension’, did you mean ‘penchant’?
I did. Thanks for pointing that out.