If you really knew Ferguson, Mo., teen Michael Brown like family, you didn’t call him “Big Mike.”
So says his maternal cousin Eric Davis Sr., a salesman in St. Louis who quickly emerged as a prominent voice for Brown’s family after the unarmed 18-year-old was slain by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
As widely reported, Wilson encountered Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, walking in the street and told them to get onto the sidewalk. A scuffle between Brown and Wilson ended with the teen being shot multiple times by the officer. Since that fatal encounter, people across the globe know of Brown and his family’s demand that Wilson be held accountable for Brown’s death. Many have taken to social media with discussions bearing hashtags such as #HandsUpDontShoot, #Ferguson and, yes, #BigMike. Indeed, Brown was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 292 pounds at the time of his death.
News reports that his family used that nickname, however, aren’t accurate, Davis insists. “That might be what some of his friends called him—Big Mike—but the family called him ‘Mike-Mike,’” Davis told The Root in an interview.
This distinction matters to Davis because of the narrative that emerged of Brown as a large, dangerous thug after the Ferguson Police Department released a video of what it described as a “strong-arm robbery” of a convenience store by the teen—he allegedly took cigars—shortly before his fatal encounter with Wilson. Officials later admitted that Wilson had no idea that Brown was a suspect when he stopped him, but the narrative had taken hold.
“Big Mike” was also the name that Brown used as an amateur rapper. That’s certainly not an unusual hobby for American teens, but filtered through the events of Aug. 9, his moniker and the bravado heard in his recordings are seen by some as relevant to his state of mind during the struggle with Wilson: one of menace. The viewpoint echoes the mindset that led to Jordan Davis’ killing by a man who hated the loud “thug music” he heard coming from the speakers of the 17-year-old Floridian’s vehicle.
Implicit in Eric Davis’ concern that we understand that Brown wasn’t “Big Mike” to those who knew him best is an awareness of the image war that factors strongly in his family’s quest for justice. It’s all over if you stop seeing Michael Brown as an unarmed 18-year-old shooting victim and start seeing him as the stereotypical big, scary black man who was a threat to be neutralized.
“As big as Michael was, when he opened his mouth he was very soft-spoken. Always smiling. Always joking. He was a typical teenager who liked to play video games and hang out with his cousins,” said Davis.
As for video from the convenience store: “I’m shocked, because it’s totally out of his character.” Its release has Davis “outraged,” because the police chief “released a video as an attempt to smear my cousin’s reputation at the same time that he released the name of the officer. He also, at the same time, had a copy of the cellphone video that showed the officer on tape standing around my cousin’s body, which was laying in the street for over [four] hours. That was totally ridiculous, totally unacceptable.”
Getting back to Brown’s size, there is one aspect that Davis finds germane to the case. Referring to an independent autopsy commissioned by his family, which concluded that the fatal shot was to the top of Brown’s head, Davis said, “Michael was a big guy—6 feet 4—and how can you shoot a 6-feet-4 guy on the top of his head if [he’s] standing up? That’s a question that I would like to have answered.” Brown-family attorneys have observed that the position of that bullet wound is consistent with witness accounts that he was surrendering when killed.