Los Angeles: Devin Was 13...and the Police Killed Him |
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
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
"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."
on the police murder of Tyisha Miller
("Valuing the Lives of the People vs. Wanton Police Murder, RW
"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
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
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497