Los Angeles

Devin Was 13...and the Police Killed Him

Revolutionary Worker #1268, February 20, 2005, posted at rwor.org

In the quiet of 4:00 on a Sunday morning, in the darkness, alone in the front seat of a car, the short, sweet life of Devin Brown was ended in a violent burst of gunfire. A night-riding Los Angeles police officer stood near the car he was in. It took him seconds to draw his gun and fire: Five shots. Then five more. Half of them struck and killed the boy in the car. Devin Brown was 13.

The whole incident that ended with murder of this Black 8th-grader took less than five minutes from start to finish. Cops started chasing the Toyota Camry that Devin and another boy were in during the early hours of Sunday, February 6. They said later they thought maybe it was a drunk driver. A chase lasting three or four minutes and covering a few miles ended when the small car crashed onto the fence of a used tire place at 83rd and Western in South Central L.A. The police say that one youth got out of the car and ran, leaving Devin alone. Within seconds, a cop got out of his car and started shooting. He was so trigger-happy that five of the bullets hit his own car. The police said that the small compact backed into the police car, and the cop fired "in fear of his life."

"They assassinated him twice," a friend of the family of Devin Brown told the RW . They not only murdered him, but tried to make him sound dangerous. They said the car was stolen, though they didn’t know it at the time the shot him. LAPD Chief William Bratton talked about a "high-speed chase," when the top speed they cited was 40 to 50 miles per hour. When speaking of the bullets the cop fired into his own car, Bratton said there was a danger of police being caught "in a crossfire," when Devin had no kind of weapon.

Devin Brown’s life was stolen by the police without a moment’s hesitation. It was almost commonplace, routine: chase, stop, shoot. "Another senseless killing by the police," Rev. Andrew Robinson-Gaither of Faith United Methodist Church called it. "They just like to take out young people’s lives. They don’t value us."

But the people who met him, his family, cherished the life of Devin Brown. "There was a sweetness about him," one of his teachers later said. "I saw an innocence and a sweetheart." She said he was her favorite student in her history class, though as a 13-year-old he was sometimes more interested in girls and sports than in his class work. He loved the movie Remember the Titans , and could recite whole scenes. She started calling him "Rev" after his favorite character.

The mother of Devin Brown’s cousin told the RW about him. "He was real nice. He was mannerable. Every kid has their times when they’re going through what they’re going through. He just lost his father last year. Every kid goes through their trials and tribulations. Nobody’s perfect. He was on the honor role at the middle school right here."

Devin’s father, Charles Brown, had quit a construction job to go to work for the school system in order to spend more time with his family. When he died of respiratory disease, Devin was devastated. At first he missed a lot of school, but he had recently started back improving.

He could do impressions, and he made his whole class laugh at his renditions of TV commercials. Other kids called him, "Willie B," a name they inscribed on a banner that they all signed and hung by the memorial that people made at the corner of 83rd and Western. One message said, "Now you rest, and we’ll do the rest." Many wrote short notes: "I love you." "It’s fucked up."

The corner of 83rd and Western became the focal point of the anger and outrage that burst forth all over Los Angeles. Beginning Sunday, people came with signs and flowers. Over 200 candles were placed on the corner. There were stuffed animals, toys and messages. As folks gathered at the spot on Monday—when you could still see Devin’s blood staining the street—they shouted their anger at any police car that drove by.

A boy and girl, both 13, came by on Tuesday. "It’s not good that they keep killing little kids. They’ve got to stop," the girl said. "I feel sad and angry. Only 13, my age." Classmates of Devin’s came by, along with older kids.

People in the neighborhood disputed many aspects of the police version, casting doubt on whether Devin was ordered to get out of the car before the police opened fire, and even whether he was driving. Rev. Meri Ka Ra Byrd, of the nearby KRST Center for African Spirituality, told the RW , "I’m outraged that a policeman following a car for miles would not be able to see that it was a child driving the car. Instead, they took it as an opportunity to open fire and to kill, to take someone’s life. It is indicative of the racist society we live in."

There are lies the police tell that are so familiar that anyone can recite them: "Reached for the waist band"; "Pointed their hand at the police in a threatening manner." Another one—"Backed the car toward the officers"—was used a year ago when the LAPD shot and killed Nicholas Killinger outside Santa Monica High School, a shooting they just decided violated department guidelines for shooting and killing people. In November 2002, two weeks after William J. Bratton became police chief of the LAPD, his cops killed four people in two days in several incidents. At that time, cops twice claimed there was a vehicle backing toward them, even though there were witnesses who said they were cold-blooded killings.

"What were they there to do? You know, fuck all this ‘serve and protect’ bullshit. If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene, they could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it’s been in power, has handled and would again handle this kind of thing—valuing the lives of the masses of people—as opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, murdering them without provocation, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses."

—Bob Avakian, on the police murder of Tyisha Miller
("Valuing the Lives of the People vs. Wanton Police Murder, RW #1255)

"All the people that’s out here representing for my little brother, they’ll put their lives on the line for him before these officers will."

The brother of Devin Brown, speaking at a protest of his killing

A protest rally was called for Tuesday by ministers in the area and others. Three or four hundred people came, overwhelmingly Black people, from all walks of life. There were truck drivers, students, family members, people from the neighborhood and from Devin’s school, Audubon Jr. High. One Black woman described herself as an executive assistant to the CEO of a company in West L.A. She said she had to come. Norma and Norberto Martinez, the parents of Gonzalo Martinez, attended. Gonzalo was murdered three years ago this month by Downey police. Looking over the crowd, one neighbor said, "There’s a strong force out here and they been hit in the gut."

As people got off work, the protest got bigger, spilling off the sidewalks. Chanting "No justice, no peace," and "Stop killing our children," they took over the street, marching to the Bethel AME Church four blocks to the north.

When this happened, the cops cordoned off the streets for several blocks in each direction and kept out of sight, even though the protest had no permit. It showed how nervous the authorities are about the anger they have unleashed.

A young Black woman was holding some artwork she made that morning: two photos of lynching victims, one hanging from a tree, the other from the Statue of Liberty, with the words, "Kill or Be Killed/Made in Amerikkka." She explained, "They’re trying to show us, ‘Now you stay in your place, or look what happens.’" Then she added, "Nothing changes without revolution, and I’m a peaceful person."

"The system don’t work," a Black man in his 30s told the RW. "We tried going through the system. It just don’t work . When it get caught on tape, and you don’t get no justice out of the system—what the hell?! What else can you do?! It’s war!"

After slandering Devin at first, the authorities in L.A. have made a big show of "apologizing." The head of the Police Commission apologized. The mayor apologized. They call it a "tragedy." They have promised to change LAPD policy to end the practice of shooting at vehicles. But there has been no move to charge any of the cops who murdered Devin Brown. In fact, LAPD officials have made the sick statement that this is a tragedy for the killer cops who carried it out.

The police chief and the mayor tried twice tried to get more money from the L.A. City Council for more cops to clamp down on the people. "At each incident we risk this city going up in flames once again," Chief Bratton told them, "which has happened twice in recent history." The 1965 Watts Rebellion and the 1992 L.A. Rebellion were both triggered by police brutality. Even after the LAPD announced it was changing its policy, Chief Bratton said, "All of a sudden these incidents are not going to go away."