Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, And Love of My Son Michael Brown, by Lezley McSpadden (Regan Arts, New York, NY, 2013, 254 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
Equal rights, fair play, justice are like the air; we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.
- Maya Angelou
August 21, 2016 (San Diego) - I feel honored and privileged to write this review of Lezley McSpadden’s book; Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown. She and I actually have a lot in common, as we both were born in Missouri, me about 150 miles south of Ferguson in the bootheel, the small town of Charleston. Also, she bears a likeness to my sister Janet, also born in Charleston, mostly through their close set eyes and facial features.
McSpadden tells the painful and heartrending story from her early childhood in St Louis, to that fateful day of August 9, 2014, when white police officer Darren Wilson would gun down her unarmed 18-year-old son Michael Brown, whom she affectionately referred to as “Mike Mike”. She states in Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: “I wasn’t there when Mike Mike was shot. I didn’t see him fall or take his last breath, but as his mother, I do know one thing better than anyone, and that’s how to tell my son’s story, and the journey we shared together as mother and son.”
The irony of that fateful day of August 9th when Michael Brown was killed, is that it is also the birthday of my daughter Brandy. I actually called her in Hawaii to sing Happy Birthday to her as she turned 23, something that McSpadden will never be able to do to her beloved Mike Mike. Forevermore, as I celebrate Brandy’s birthday, I will also remember and honor the life of Michael Brown. I can’t begin to imagine what hurt and pain McSpadden might be going through at that time!
The author uses harsh and coarse language and rhetoric throughout Tell the Truth & Shame the devil, and understandably so, especially considering the fact of her first born being shot down and killed unjustifiably on the streets of St. Louis (Ferguson). To put this story in context, it should be noted that the majority black community of Ferguson at the time of Michael Brown’s killing was patrolled and occupied by a majority white police force, as well as a majority white city administration.
McSpadden states in her book: “I don’t wish this pain, this hurt, this void, this guilt or this grief on anybody. After Mike Mike died, I believed we would have justice. I waited for the police to right the wrong. I waited for the country to bring justice for Mike Mike. I waited for the DOJ to discover the truth. The system has failed my son. It has failed me and it has failed all of us. But, now, I know that I can’t wait for anybody else to make change. I must make change, myself. That will be Mike Mike’s legacy; that will be his justice. That’s the truth of it.”
Soledad O’Brien, broadcast journalist and chairman of Starfish Media Group, brings clarity and perspective to McSpadden’s hurt and pain, as well as the mothers of so many other young black men during these turbulent and perilous times, by stating: “In a year where clashes between young black men and law enforcement fuel concern, and even anger, the death of Michael Brown could have been just one more incident raising questions about the public and policing. Instead, a community came together and ignited a firestorm of national protests that took the issue to another level. Caught in the frenzy, grieving mother Lezley McSpadden launched headfirst into a new life of activism. This book gives voice to her journey and allows us all to see what one mother can do to find answers.”
The shooting death of 18-year-old black and unarmed Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson seems to have started a pattern or trend of unarmed black men throughout the country being shot and killed by white police officers, and mothers such as Lezley McSpadden mourning and grieving their deaths. Following Michael Brown’s untimely death, 18-year-old and unarmed black man Laquan McDaniel was shot approximately 16 times in the back by a white policeman in Chicago, and just recently, 18-year-old and unarmed black man Paul O’neal was also shot and killed by a white police officer in Chicago. Of course, this is no consolation to McSpadden!
There is an ironic and tragic fact or coincidence between Ferguson and Charleston, the fact that another historic and civil rights occurrence happened in the Charleston area some 70 years earlier; The Lynching of Cleo Wright. Just as the U.S. Justice Department got involved in the killing of Michael Brown, they also got involved in the killing of Cleo Wright. This writer actually wrote the review of The Lynching of Cleo Wright, by Dominic J. Capeci, Jr., in the East County Magazine earlier. A movie starring William Shatner of Star Trek fame was actually made some 55 years ago chronicling the atmosphere and racial climate in the area where Cleo Wright was lynched, titled The Intruder. See attached here.
In this book, of the tragic death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, which was heard and viewed around the world, McSpadden makes a profound statement which has left an indelible imprint and vision in my mind in chapter twenty-six of this soul searching book: “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” McSpadden speaks of a “so-called” apology which she caught on the local TV news being made by the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson some seven weeks after her son was shot, which stated: “I want to say to the Brown family: No one who has not experienced the loss of a child can understand what you’re feeling.” He said, facing the camera and standing in front of the American flag. “I am truly sorry for the loss of your son. I’m also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street. The time that it took involved very important work on the part of investigators who were trying to collect evidence and gain a true picture of what happened that day. But it was just too long, and I’m truly sorry for that.” That was an unforgettable image for me, and perhaps the rest of the world, for Michael Brown to lie there in the Missouri heat for more than 4 hours!
The author, along with that of Lyah Beth LeFlore, a television and film producer and the author of the NAACP Image Award-winning book The Strawberry Letter, gives life and a sense of purpose for Michael Brown in this soul-searching book.
One can feel the anger and pain of McSpadden throughout this book, as at times the author lashes out at the police and society in general, over the cruel and untimely killing of her son “Mike Mike”. She still struggles with that loss.
This anger and pain came across most poignantly in chapter twenty-four of McSpadden’s book, titled “The Longest Day”, as she stated: “I thought about all the protesters, news reports, and comments on social media. ‘They don’t know me. They don’t know my son.’ I scrubbed harder. I saw flashes of that killer cop’s face, Police Chief Jackson, Governor Nixon, James Knowles, the mayor of Ferguson. White men who didn’t see my baby for nothing but a black boy in the hood. What the fuck was he doing today? It was like the water was pouring with even more force over my body. I wanted it to just wash me right down the drain.” If no one else can feel this mother’s anger and pain, I certainly can!McSpadden concluded by stating: ‘“Oh God!” I opened my mouth and screamed as loud as I could, dropping the rag.”’ This was in the aftermath of her son’s death, still feeling the residual effects and trauma of her loss. This is a book that I encourage everyone to read in order to get at the truth.
As disturbing as the killing of young Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson was, it pales in comparison to the killings of unarmed African-Americans Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams by white police officer Michael Brelo on November 29, 2012, as graphically stated and depicted in the attached appeal by Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty here.
McGinty specifically stated in his aforementioned appeal: "They were shot 47 times, with the final 15 shots being fired by Brelo after he climbed on the hoo of Russell's dilapidated 1979 Chevy Malibu. Brelo fired three magazines and reloaded his weapon the second time from the hood of Russells's car before bending over gripping his gun with two hands, and firing at the unarmed Russell and Williams from point-blank range.
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine and he is the book review editor of SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.