By Vincent Heck
In the last 6 days, the case of 26 year old Brandon Tate-Brown, who was gunned down by a Philadelphia police officer in the early morning hours of December 15th, has gone silent on the Philly media front.
In the few articles Philly’s press have provided, they’ve made it a point to emphasize that Tate-Brown had a “detailed” criminal past. Yes, we get that he’s had a past. Philadelphia police, themselves, have a long and not so shiny past. And without context, words like that can seem to blend those who are hardened criminals with those who have only made mistakes.
The more one looks into Brandon Brown’s case, the more it’s apparent that he very much regretted what he had done, and was very interested in righting those wrongs.
Tate-Brown, during his last two weeks of life, had nearly every morning detailed his excitement on social media about putting his 5-year-delayed life back together.
He announced his new apartment and car in the subsequent weeks after getting a new 9-to-5 at a rental car company. He was even working overtime due to the amount of money it was producing. Just days before he was gunned down, he posted on Facebook that he was going to be attending school.
If it weren’t for his Facebook profile being set to public, we would not have known any of that. We would have just had to settle with the hardened criminal implications put forth by the Philly PD as conveyed by local reporters Aubrey Whelan and Vinny Vella.
It often seems that the media is more of a mouthpiece for the police and government than they are for the people – and far too quick to convict murdered Blacks in the press.
For the sake of perspective, I spoke to a childhood friend of Tate-Brown’s, as well as a current friend of the Brown family, a few days after his shooting.
The childhood friend is Angelica Manzano, and she’s adamant about Brown not being a combative person.
She recalls growing up with him on Glenloch Street. Tate-Brown would come to her block from where he lived in the nearby Lindenfield Housing Projects.
“When we were younger, everybody would come over on my block, they’d all play football, basketball, we would play tag. He was a very active kid. He was always smiling or, you know, he was always happy. It was rare that you’d see Brandon and he was mad,” Manzano said. “He was always smiling. His mother, Ms. Tanya, she was a strict mother when he was younger. I remember, he would come on my block and blow my mom kisses. He knew it would get on her nerves. And she’d be like, ‘Brandon, I’m gonna go tell your mother.’ and he’s like ‘I’m sorry, Ms. Angie, please don’t go tell my mom.'” she laughed. “He was so funny. He was alive, you know?”
Tate-Brown’s at-times goofy demeanor would shine through in posts to social media.
“He was never mad,” she recalled. “Even now, I can’t remember one time when he was upset about something. He’s never had an issue with anybody that I can even think of, or put a finger on. I’ve never even seen him fight […] he wasn’t an angry person.”
Manzano also spoke about the biggest challenge Brown faced in his short life, which occurred approximately seven years ago: jail time for assault charges and gun possession.
“It was aggravated assault he did the time for — and for having a gun. That’s what gave him that five-and-a-half years. Not attempted murder,” she tells me. “And the reason he got that was because his girlfriend was hit by another man. When they first lock you up, they charge you with everything under the sun. But then they go through everything and they’re like, ‘okay you’re not guilty of this.'”
The last time Manzano saw Brown was in 2013.
His mother has gone on record regarding the charges, as well. Brown’s mother says that the man hit his girlfriend in the face with a pipe, and Brown retaliated.
He ended up spending 5 years in jail for it — five years he deeply regretted.
Now to the early morning of December 15th.
The story went as such: Tate-Brown was pulled over somewhere around 2:40 a.m. According to police, he was driving with his headlights off. When the two officers approached the car — a Dodge Charger with Florida tags — they claim to have seen a handgun in the center console. It is not clear why Brown was driving a vehicle with an out-of-state plate – although he was as previously mentioned a rental car employee.
They asked Tate-Brown to exit.
From there, the first flag goes up for me. Here are two different ways Philadelphia reporters have phrased the story transition from that point:
The first reporter, Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Aubrey Whelan, writes:
Later, a Daily News reporter, Vinny Vella, posted this description of the transition:
After this alleged struggle or fight, police claim he went for his gun, and that’s when he was shot — with a single bullet — to the back of his head, from which he subsequently died.
All of this brings me to a few key questions about what happened to him:
In the police’s written statement, Tate-Brown goes from being completely compliant — pulling over and getting out of the car — straight into a vicious scuffle in one complete, though nonsensical, Philadelphia PD sentence. There’s also the matter of the location in which the officer’s shell casing landed, to which I give a healthy dose of educated, though speculative, scrutiny.
Common sense would clearly indicate that’s most likely not what happened. There’s something being left out between ‘compliant’ and ‘non-compliant.’
According to another person close to the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, there was an eyewitness who overheard one of the police officers (who is either white or Asian) questioning Tate-Brown with “where is the gun?!” repeatedly before the scuffle broke out.
When the scuffle started, according to another source, one of the police officers did not get involved at all.
1. Why did he go from completely compliant to non-compliant in an instant?
2. Why did they ask Tate-Brown out of the car? If it was because “they saw a handgun in the front center console area,” according to the department’s statement on the matter, then why didn’t the second officer secure it after they moved to the sidewalk? According to one former law enforcement officer I talked to, doing so would have been standard procedure.
3. Where was the officer positioned when he shot his gun?
4. If the struggle moved to the other side of the car, then how did the bullet shell casing land on the driver’s side of the vehicle?
5. If the eyewitness account is correct, why were the police officers asking him where the gun was, if they in fact saw it before asking him to exit the vehicle?
As usual, the lines become blurred when it comes to whether an officer was correct in their assessment of threatening individuals. What we know for certain, however, is that Brandon Tate-Brown ended up stretched out next to his Dodge Charger with a hole in the back of his head.
The story just doesn’t add up, and the police and media haven’t said a word since preliminary reports.
The public deserves more rounded views, and local and mainstream media are not always looking for them, as (apparently) is the case here in Philadelphia.
Vincent Heck was born in Phoenixville, PA, a semi-quaint Philadelphia suburb. He started his journey as a writer at 9-years-old, writing about everything he could for his family. His professional writing venture started in 2006 while working in a world-acclaimed New York City publishing house. Having published over 400 articles for Yahoo!, Heck is known for his prolific beginning in sportsblogging. He is now working on his third fiction novel set to release in 2016.
“Make the most of your shortcomings by continuing to learn from them.” is the motto he lives and writes by. Follow him on Twitter: @HeckPhilly