Grieving family looking for answers in senseless shooting of HBCU student
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It is hard enough to bear the weight of an unsolved shooting.
Besides the grief, there’s the pain of seeing the media omit important details about a victim’s life in the brief narrative about the shooting.
For many survivors, there’s also the realization that they’ll need to raise thousands of dollars just to make the final arrangements.
But most of all, there’s the why?
Why would someone shoot my son or my daughter or my father or my mother?
Unless the victim was fatally shot by police or died from a self-inflicted wound, the motive for the shooting is often unknown, making the rest of us feel helpless.
After all, if someone could get shot for no reason, how are we to protect ourselves?
Police may speculate about the role gang-involvement plays in urban violence, but we don’t know why so many people have been shot dead on the street any more than we know why some people suddenly run amok and commit mass murder.
In the aftermath of most fatal shootings, all the grief-stricken survivors know is that someone pulled the trigger and changed their lives forever.
Frankly, there are so many accounts of shootings that end with “no one is in custody” the shooters might as well be ghosts.
The fatal shooting of D’Angelo Bratton-Bland, the student body president at Lincoln University in Missouri, is a perfect example.
Bratton-Bland, 23, was on track to get his bachelor’s degree in May. A graduate of Perspectives Academy in Bronzeville, Bratton-Bland had dreams of coming back to teach at the school.
But those dreams ended abruptly last Tuesday when Bratton-Bland was struck by gunfire. Police found him in a car that was speeding from the area with three other men, according to sketchy news reports.
Because Bratton-Bland was an openly gay man, his family is concerned that he may have been a victim of a hate crime.
“Was this a random, senseless act of violence or was this a calculated, targeted hate crime against a gay man?” asked Ashley Bratton in a written statement.
Lincoln University is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), located in Jefferson City, Mo.
According to a recent report in The Nation, there are more than 100 HBCUs, but there are only three known HBCUs with LGBT-student centers.
In recent years, administrators at HBCUs have tried to address homophobia on campus.
Bratton-Bland was also going through the pledge process to join the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
“Was this some stupid induction to become an Alpha? Was this someone’s stupid idea of stopping him from becoming an Alpha?” his sister asked.
In 2011, Robert Champion died after being beaten during a Florida A&M University hazing incident. Champion was gay, and his family believed his sexual identity played a role in the beating.
Fifteen former FAMU band members were charged in the case.
To be clear, no one has alleged that anyone connected with Lincoln University was involved in Bratton-Bland’s death.
But his family is disappointed that the police can’t give them the answers they need to try and make sense out of what happened to their loved one.
They have received no information about why D’Angelo was killed. “What happened that night?” asked Glenn Harston, a family spokesman.
“We have asked if there have been any crimes against gay men, or if anything could have occurred while he was going through the [fraternity pledge] process,” he said.
A spokesman for the Jefferson City Police Department said Bratton-Bland “did nothing to contribute to his fatal shooting,” the News Tribune reported.
It is indeed a tragic irony that Bratton-Bland survived the violence on the streets of Chicago only to be gunned down in a small town.
“He was an all around good kid. He was not only very involved on the campus with student government, but he was also involved with the Salvation Army and did a lot of mentoring both in Chicago and at school,” Harston said.
“He led sit-ins for equality and education fairness. He was all about equal opportunities for minorities and for students from underserved communities because that is where he came from,” Harston told me.
“He was an openly gay man, so he was about fairness in terms of rights for LGBTQ community,” he continued.
“What made D’Angelo unique was he was the type of kid that wasn’t going to let you walk away. If he decided you were going to be his mentor, you were going to be his mentor. He was going to bear hug you into adopting him.”
His mother passed away two years ago and he had six siblings, three girls and three boys, according to Harston.
On Monday afternoon, family and friends gathered for a vigil and benefit concert at Perspectives Math & Science Academy.
I have a grandson away at college and I can’t imagine how I would get through the pain had this happened to me.
As parents, we try our best to protect our children from gun violence.
But there are too many guns and too many people willing to use them to feel that our children are ever completely safe.
To some, it might look like this grieving family is looking to blame officials for not having a motive for the shooting.
That’s not it.
This family is trying to process the unthinkable.