Metro-East News

August 14, 2014

Uncle describes teenager shot by police as a 'gentle giant'

The uncle of 18-year-old Michael Brown says his nephew was a "gentle giant" who didn't want to play football because he didn't want to hurt anyone.

Brown, who was shot to death Saturday afternoon in Ferguson by a police officer, stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 300 pounds. He had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to starting college.

"I said, 'Mike, with your size, any college would sign you up to train you to play football. But he was a very timid young man. He wouldn't hurt anybody. He didn't want to hit anybody. He said he didn't want to play football," said Charles Ewing.

"You could hardly get him to talk. He was very shy."

Brown's death has sparked some of the most intense racial tension seen in years in this country, pitting police with riot gear and tear gas bombs against angry crowds demanding justice. Nightly confrontations on the streets have been playing out on national television.

Ewing said he saw his nephew just a couple weeks before the shooting, at his grandmother's residence in the Canfield Green Apartment complex, where the shooting occurred. "He was on his computer. We were talking about football, graduating from high school."

Brown towered over the other students in his classes. "He was shy and he was big. They called him Big Mike. He felt out of place because of his size."

Ewing said some have suggested his nephew was in a gang, but he denied that. With peer pressure being what it is, "it's amazing he had a mind to finish high school." He would have started classes at Vatterott College on Monday to fulfill his dream of becoming a heating and air conditioning technician.

He didn't make it.

Ewing, 58, pastor of the Jennings Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, joined other relatives in calling for calm in the wake of protests that at times have been punctuated by looting and violence. He said the family has called for a transparent investigation into the shooting death of their loved one. They want answers.

"We're praying for strength," he said in an interview.

Protests have been large since Brown was killed and the crowds have been huge. The demonstrators are young and old, black and white. Some are crying as they walk. Others say they are tired of police killing young black males. Stop the killing, they shout.

Since Sunday night, the part of Ferguson where the shooting took place has looked like a war zone. Police carry shields and military-style rifles that shoot rubber bullets. Tear gas canisters have been set off by police, burning people's eyes and causing them to cough and have difficulty breathing as they run away.

The crowd calls for America's eyes to turn to Ferguson to make sure justice is served. Some want the officer's name released, and they want to know about his background, training. They want the right to assemble and to make a statement.

Ewing said his family supports the protesters, but wants them to be nonviolent and carry themselves peacefully.

"That's what we want -- peaceful protests," he said.

Ewing said while the family makes funeral plans, it struggles with the question of how this happened. He gave this account of what happened:

Brown had gone to the store and was walking to his grandmother's residence. The sidewalks in that subdivision are narrow and people often walk in the street, he said.

"The police officers drove up and told him to get out of the street. He told them he was not far from his grandmother's house. The officer called him over to the police car. And, with him being raised to say 'yes sir, no sir,' he went to the car. The officer grabbed him by the neck and I guess, like most people, your natural response is to pull away. That's when the officer shot him," Ewing said.

"He told his friend to go tell his grandmother that a police officer had shot him in the back. He turned around with his hands in the air and said, 'I believe in God. Don't shoot.' The officer emptied his gun into his body. He shot him nine times."

Ewing said police let his nephew's body lie in the street for 4 1/2 hours.

Ewing's account is based on what witnesses told the family. Details of the story could not be confirmed because police are not releasing any information about the shooting.

Police have said that Brown and the officer scuffled and that the youth was going for the officer's gun; witnesses have said that Brown had his hands in the air and was walking away.

Ewing said the shooting, ensuing riots and the military response of the police has caused grief and "put a great amount of stress on the family."

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