Justice for another Trayvon

Shane Johnson reports on an August 3 march to demand justice for Brandon Coleman.

IT TOOK more than six weeks of nationwide protest to pressure the Sanford, Fla., police to finally arrest George Zimmerman. In Columbia, Mo., the struggle to arrest the murderer of Brandon Coleman has reached 77 days.

A multiracial crowd of more than 200 people marched August 3 to call on the city of Columbia and the Columbia Police Department to take action against Coleman's assailant. The white assailant who on May 19 killed Coleman, a 25-year-old employee of the University of Missouri Athletic Department, has yet to be charged in the shooting. The police originally deemed the Coleman's death a "justifiable homicide," but then said that they had made a clerical error and that the case remains under investigation.

The Columbia chapter of the NAACP called for the August 3 march and rally. During the rally, speakers from the community addressed the crowd, revealing details about the case not previously reported to the media.

Brandon was called by a friend to help defuse a dispute about an interracial relationship. When a white man threated Brandon with a machete, Brandon pulled a weapon to defend himself. Neighbors and witnesses say Brandon was retreating from the scene when another man fired three times at Brandon. As Brandon fell to the ground with gunshot wounds to his chest, the shooter went back to the house to reload and shot Brandon again while he lay on the ground.

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In what seems like a scene from the Jim Crow South of the 1950's, it's a glaring reality that Brandon's race and the race of the shooter have played a primary role in the lack of charges in Brandon's murder. "Had the roles been reversed, things would be different," said Redditt Hudson, an NAACP regional field organizer.

Many along the march route told stories of police harassment. "They [police] see any group of Black men as a gang," said Travis James, a member of the NAACP Columbia chapter. "They expect crime and are looking for a reason [to arrest]."

Winona Coleman-Broadus, Brandon's mother, drew on personal experience as she described the racism of the Columbia police. Pointing at the assembled officers standing with arms folded, Coleman-Broadus said, "When you told me about my son's death, you were arrogant, pompous, coy and disrespectful. You said Brandon was looking for trouble. Do Black people not have the ability to defuse a situation? Are we always in trouble?"

This march comes on the heels of a rash of gun violence in Columbia. While corruption, racism, ineptitude and mismanagement have been the hallmarks of the police department in Columbia, Democratic Mayor Bob McDavid's solution is to hire...more police! On August 5, McDavid proposed that the city ask voters to approve a 20-cent property tax increase in November to fund 35 new officers for the Columbia Police Department. In addition to hiring more police to "make Columbia safer," McDavid plans to form a violent crime task force.

If Florida is any indication, it's going to take a grassroots movement to push the police to bring Brandon's killer to justice and fix the broken police department. The struggle for justice for Brandon Coleman has just begun.