America’s justice system can often act in ways that stir up even more pain for family members of victims of police killings ― and, sadly, Michael Brown’s family is all too familiar with this.
On Tuesday, Brown’s parents, Lezley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., received a $1.5 million settlement after filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, former Police Chief Thomas Jackson and former police officer Darren Wilson. Of course, no amount of money will ever rectify the unjust death of a loved one, but it’s worth noting the amount that Brown’s family received was significantly less than other multimillion-dollar payouts given to other families of black victims of police shootings.
The settlement was, however, on par with one particular shooting in Maryland ― except, in this case, the family was white and the victim was their pet dog.
In May, a jury awarded $1.26 million to a family whose pet was shot and killed by Anne Arundel County police Officer Rodney Price in February 2014. Price, who was confronted by the dog in the homeowner’s front yard, was investigating a burglary in the neighborhood and claimed he was attacked by the nearly 5-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Vern.
Price fired his weapon twice, but admitted in court that the dog did not attack or injure him before he pulled out his weapon, according to the Hansel Law Firm that represented the family. The jury found that the shooting violated the owner’s constitutional rights and was committed with gross negligence, according to a press release sent to HuffPost.
Price was placed on administrative leave and the three-day trial resulted in “the largest verdict in U.S. history for a police dog shooting,” the firm said, according to CBS. The county’s police chief himself even visited the dog’s family to extend his condolences and reassure them that his department would conduct an internal investigation into the incident.
“The verdict sends a strong message to the police about … community expectations,” Cary J. Hansel, counsel for the plaintiff, wrote in the release. “The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well. Shooting Vern was senseless, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
Brown’s family has used these same descriptors time and again to express the pain from their son’s death. The Ferguson police chief never extended them the courtesy of a personal visit ― although he did send them a video message. They were also forced to grieve before the nation while dealing with the mischaracterization of their son ― who was described as “no angel” and a “thug” ― and supporting months-long protests calling out the country’s systemic racism.
The differences in how these two cases played out and the similar amounts of money given to the families send a heavy message about the strikingly unbalanced way in which the justice system can function ― especially in cases involving black lives like Brown’s.
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