“Mama Mama pray for me, why won’t the system let me be? Ain’t no use in looking down, ain’t no justice on the ground. There ain’t no crime in being brown.” The crowd sang on the morning of Friday, Sept. 11 2020 at the student march to honor the late Jaylen Brown, from Chatham University to Duquesne University.
21-year-old Marquis Jaylen Brown, known as “JB” to his friends, was a student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. According to investigators, on the night of Oct. 4, 2018, using a chair to shatter his dorm room window, Brown jumped to his death from the 16th floor of Brottier Hall after spending the evening at a friend’s off-campus apartment. Present in his room at the time was a resident advisor, two Duquesne police officers and a campus security guard who served as eye-witnesses for the incident. Following his death, Jaylen’s mother, Dannielle Brown has been seeking answers from Duquesne. To prove her devotion, Brown is engaging in a hunger strike, and as of the day of the march, she has refused food for 70 straight days. The university released a statement in August 2020 stating that they “have offered assistance to and has responded to the requests of . . . Dannielle Brown.” The University also said that “there is absolutely no evidence of the Public Safety Officers acting inappropriately in any fashion.”
“His life should not have been taken the way it did . . .There is no way that in the comfort of his dorm room, his home away from home, should there have been four people in that room that could not keep him safe,” Brown said. “I’m going to stand and fight to make sure that there are body cameras and that the officers are trained in mental health, crisis intervention and de-escalation.”
Participants met at Chatham University on Woodland Rd. where Brownintroduced herself and outlined the plan for the day: To march from Chatham University to Duquesne University, an almost four mile walk, making stops at the University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University along the way. At each institution, students or alumni spoke about injustices they’ve personally faced and about Jaylen Brown. Chrissy Carter spoke at Duquesne University in front of Brottier Hall, the dormitory where Jaylen fell to his death.
“If the president of Duquesne makes more than half a million dollars but still can’t afford body cameras, there’s something wrong,” Carter said. “What does justice look like in a system not made for us? A new world is possible. Show up and do better; I want abolition and I want it now.”
Since her son’s death, Brown has been stationing herself at the Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh, on an infamous white rocking chair and has demanded three requests. Pitt Amnesty, the University of Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty, an international human rights organization, outlined Dannielle’s demands for Duquesne University in an instagram post: cooperation with a private investigation of Jaylen’s death, obtain body cameras for all Duquesne University public safety officers and provide crisis and mental health training to Duquesne University public safety officers.
“Here you’ve got this mother who has packed up everything and laid her life on the line; 70 days I’ve gone without food” Brown said. “So I can stand for the students here. Some of them don’t even speak to me, but I love them anyway.”
Dannielle Brown chose September 11 as the day for the march because she wants to honor the victims of 9/11 victims as well; she has a deep connection with the event, specifically with Flight 93, the hijacked plane that passengers overtook so that it would not reach the intended destination—the White House in Washington D.C. The Flight 93 Memorial, located in Stoystown, Pa. just outside of Somerset, is a part of the route Brown takes to drive from her hometown of Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh. Driving to her hometown from Duquesne after her son’s death, Brown experienced a spiritual occurrence.
“While driving back I got real emotional. My GPS stopped working, it was snowing really hard in the mountains and I said to myself, if I just turned my wheel a little bit, I could go down this mountain and see my baby,” Brown said. “Then I passed the sign that said ‘Flight 93 Memorial’. . . I heard Jaylen’s voice say turn around . . . When I got there I started reading the names of the people who sacrificed their lives . . . Jaylen said to me ‘Mom, 40 people lost their lives, 40 families lost their loved ones, and there’s possibly 40 grieving mothers out there. You’re not alone’. . . Jaylen was number 40 on the Duquesne football team. Hence our slogan, 40 for 40.”
Brown is working towards implementing body cameras for all university police officers. There are currently not any events planned for Jaylen Brown, however, Dannielle Brown can be found at Duquesne on Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is accepting donations through go fund me, under the username: justiceformarquisjaylenbrown40.
“This mama loves you. I accept you. I love you. Your life matters.” Brown said. “You were born loved, no matter who refused to give it to you.”