His hands were on the steering wheel. He was shot in the back as he tried to drive away. 

Less than 24 hours after Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota cop convicted of killing George Floyd, was led away in handcuffs last week, reports rolled in that two more Black people in America were shot to death by law enforcement officers. 

Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old child from Columbus, Ohio, was the first. She was killed near her home just minutes after the Chauvin verdict came down. The second was Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old man from Elizabeth City, located some two hours northeast of Raleigh near the Outer Banks. 

Excuses were made about Bryant’s killing almost immediately, just as they are about the vast number of people killed by law enforcement officers in this country (roughly two people per day, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union). Bryant was holding a knife when she charged at another girl who was pinned against a car, police said.

And, right now, from Fox News to The Federalist, excuses are being deployed to try to explain away Brown’s killing. He was a felon. He was being served drug-related search and arrest warrants. He was trying to flee. 

Neither Bryant’s nor Brown’s killing is excusable. Nor is 13-year-old Adam Toledo’s in Chicago. Nor is 20-year-old Daunte Wright’s in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Nor—as we finally saw, officially, following a grueling, exhausting year filled with pain—was George Floyd’s in Minneapolis. 

The circumstances around Brown’s death are chilling.

“Let’s be clear, this was an execution. His hands were firmly on the steering wheel. They run up to his vehicle shooting.”

Initial reports from Brown’s family members and neighbors who saw what happened last Wednesday morning describe sheriff’s deputies on the scene to serve Brown with arrest and search warrants. Brown was in his car. As he tried to drive away, the deputies opened fire, shattering the vehicle’s back window. Brown crashed into a neighbor’s tree. When the deputies reached the vehicle and opened the door, Brown was dead.

He was shot in the back.

On Friday, seven Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office deputies were placed on leave.

On Monday, attorneys for Brown’s family, and some family members, were allowed to watch 20 seconds of body camera footage to try to bring them some clarity as to what happened while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the killing. 

It wasn’t much, but for Brown family attorney Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, it told her all she needed to know. Sheriff’s deputies blocked Brown in his driveway and approached his vehicle, shooting AR 223 semi-automatic rifles and Glock 17 pistols. They opened fire instantly, in a residential neighborhood, at 8:30 on a weekday morning. A neighbor, who mercifully wasn’t home at the time, told The News & Observer that a bullet went through his home and broke the glass of a clock.

“Let’s be clear, this was an execution,” Cherry-Lassiter said in a press conference Monday afternoon. “He had his hands firmly on the steering wheel. They run up to his vehicle shooting. He still stood there, sat there in his vehicle, with his hands on the steering wheel while being shot at.”  

His hands were on the steering wheel.

Many terrible details are likely to emerge soon about Brown’s killing, a process that has been slow to unfold so far. We’ll know more once a judge authorizes the release of more bodycam footage, expected soon. The results of an autopsy Brown’s family is commissioning also are pending. 

And we’ll certainly hear more about Brown’s alleged drug dealing, his criminal history, 20-year-old convictions for trespassing and assault—anything and everything that can be dredged up to paint Brown, a father of 10 and longtime resident of Elizabeth City, as a criminal lowlife. 

We must let none of it obscure the fact that Brown did not deserve to die that way. 

The truth, contained in the facts as relayed by witnesses, neighbors, and a lawyer, remains: His hands were on the steering wheel. He was shot in the back as he tried to drive away. 

Follow Editor-in-Chief Jane Porter on Twitter or send an email to jporter@indyweek.com

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