Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, was just trying to make it home in the early-morning hours of Dec. 15 when police officers pulled him over for allegedly driving without his headlights in Philadelphia’s Mayfair district.
By the end of that encounter, Tate-Brown would be dead—a bullet piercing the back of his head—and his mother, Tanya Brown, would be left heartbroken, searching for answers.
“Brandon was a beautiful and spirited young man,” Brown told me quietly during a phone call Thursday evening. “All he wanted was to laugh and have fun. He didn’t want to die. He was no thug or gangsta, whatever they’re trying to call him. My son had so much love in him, so much joy.”
“He would never be confrontational with police,” Brown said, her voice gaining strength. “Never.”
Police officers tell a different story.
They claim that after officers approached and saw a handgun in the center console of the white Dodge Charger that Tate-Brown was driving, they asked him to get out of the car. After he complied, a struggle allegedly ensued that caused Tate-Brown to run back toward the car to get the weapon, a .22-caliber handgun with eight live rounds that had allegedly been reported stolen in July of last year.
At that point, the story becomes all too familiar: The officer allegedly felt threatened; and even though Tate-Brown was out of the car, police opened fire, shooting Tate-Brown in the back of the head.
Tanya Brown’s oldest child was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:05 a.m.—approximately 15 minutes after being pulled over.
“Why did they find it necessary to shoot him in the back of the head?” she asked, the hurt and disbelief evident in her voice. “His face was horrific. But I believe in God. And I’m grateful that I got to see my son’s face. I told the funeral director not to put him in any makeup because I needed to see his face. I needed to see what they did to him.
“Those were bruises and scrapes,” Brown continued. “Not a hit and fall on your face, not none of that. They never gave him a chance.”
After a long pause, Brown said, “They had no intention on letting my son live.”
Even though we talked about the indignity of having to prove that black lives matter—that police don’t have the right to kill with impunity and that mothers and fathers shouldn’t have to posthumously defend their children from being revictimized in the court of public opinion—Brown still wanted to make it clear what kind of man her son was.
Tate-Brown was arrested in June 2007 on charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault and carrying a firearm without a license, reports Philly.com. After pleading guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated assault, he served five years in prison and was released in October 2012. While in prison, he earned his GED diploma and told his mother that upon his release, he wanted to go to community college as a way to help children not end up in prison like he did.
But, according to Brown, her son never should have been there in the first place.