With the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Missouri weighing on their minds, politicians, church leaders and members of the public gathered Tuesday night at a Northwest Baltimore Church to consider police brutality.
The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple, where the event was held, said that the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. could be a landmark in the history of African-American activism.
In the future, Bryant said, people will ask one another, "Where were you and what did you do when Michael Brown was killed?"
Bryant has stood with victims of violence in high-profile cases before. In 2012 he spoke at a news conference with the family of Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was fatally shot in Sanford, Fla. This summer he traveled to Ferguson to help organize residents
Bryant talked Tuesday about Tyrone West, who died during an arrest by Baltimore police, calling his death "our own Michael Brown story." Police were cleared of wrong-doing in the West case.
Heber Brown III, a pastor, recalled the case of a man shot by police in Baltimore in 1942 and how the community rallied together. The case revealed how some things hadn't changed he said.
"Seventy-two years ago my grandparents or your grandparents were debating the issue of police brutality," he said.
Brown proposed presenting evidence in police misconduct cases to a grand jury so citizens could make a decision on whether to file charges and urged changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which provides procedural protections to police who are under investigation.
While much of the debate was about the relationship between black communities and the police, the discussion also touched on the topic of violent crime in Baltimore in which many victims are African-American but so are the perpetrators.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke about the fatal shooting of 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott last month. Rawlings-Blake said the man authorities believe is responsible is in custody in an unrelated case but he cannot be charged until more witnesses come forward.
If that happens, she said, "we'll have real charges that will stick."
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