As a proud Black man fed up with social injustice and a native of Louisville, Kentucky, loyal to his hometown, Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Jamon Brown has taken the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor to heart.
“We’ve been out here marching and protesting for a cause, for a movement, for a change. But right now, I’m here to tell you — look around you. Literally, look around you. People say ‘One day,’ and I say ‘Day 1.’ …Today in Louisville, Kentucky, we as a people have declared that we are all the same and that we as a people deserve the same justice. We deserve the same rights. We deserve the same opportunities of life.”
Those were the words the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Brown shouted through a bullhorn as he addressed thousands of masked supporters congregated in downtown Louisville on June 6 — the day after what would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday.
A man standing to Brown’s right threw a clenched fist in the air while nodding approval. The folks scattered along the front of the crowd stretched their cell phones high, attempting to capture every word of the passionate speech.
Brown was unaware he would be called upon to speak that day, but Christopher 2X, a Louisville-based, anti-violence activist, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Brother, do it for Breonna’s mom.”
He did it for his divided city. He did it for a broken nation.
Brown, a former University of Louisville standout, marched in numerous Louisville protests during the months of June and July in memory of Taylor, a Black woman killed by Louisville police who served a no-knock warrant at her home in March. He addressed crowds of thousands on the same Metro Hall steps as Rev. Jesse Jackson did at the same event in pleading for unity and change during a racially charged time nationwide.
Although Taylor’s family was awarded a $12 million settlement on Tuesday from the city of Louisville in a wrongful death lawsuit, Brown still wants to know why the officers involved in her shooting haven’t been arrested.
“Still in the fight. Hush money won’t end this,” Brown said when asked if the settlement changed his stance about the case.
His next step will be an attempt to get answers directly from the FBI.
Brown is scheduled to participate in a conference call with the FBI’s Louisville field office at some point before the end of the month. Christopher 2X set up the call, which will include six others, including a retired Air Force general and doctoral and law students.
“It’s about making sure that the right light is shed and that they’re not able to just turn a blind eye to what’s going on,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, I can’t make people make decisions. All I can try to do is be the people’s voice to put people’s feet to the fire.”
Inside Brown’s perspective
Brown’s passionate stance stems from his upbringing. The 27-year-old has come a long way since battling poverty, bullying and brief homelessness growing up with his mother and two siblings in the predominantly Black West End of Louisville. He admitted possessing the mentality “not to always trust the pale face,” meaning white people. Some of it had to do with learning about slavery and segregation as a child. Some of it had to do with early encounters with racism.
“I remember running around with some friends in sixth grade — some white — and we were throwing rocks at abandoned houses and got caught by the police,” Brown recalled. “Of course, we weren’t supposed to be doing that, but only me and my twin brother got in trouble when we all should have gotten in trouble. The officers didn’t arrest us, but they put us in the car and took us home. Being in the back of a police car and [being reprimanded] as if it was just the Black kids and not the group who caused trouble, that’s what made it traumatizing.”
Brown, a self-proclaimed “angry Black kid,” said he was far from a model student. As a sophomore at Fern Creek High School, he said he nearly got into a physical altercation with a white teacher he believed singled him out because he was a Black athlete. Brown said that after he verbally committed to play football at Louisville, “Teachers who would throw out shady comments like, ‘Just because you committed to Louisville, that doesn’t mean you run stuff.’ Little smart comments like that would rub me the wrong way.”
In one case, the situation got heated.
“One teacher that I kind of — we really never agreed,” Brown said. “He said something like that to me one day. I got offended. I kind of swell up. We’re kind of chest to chest. Security is called. There was talk like, ‘Hey, he’s talking about pressing charges against you for intimidation. He said he doesn’t feel comfortable coming to work.’ I know that although I got upset, he did too. It was only a one-sided offense, and I was the offender at that point, when he really provoked me. And he never received any discipline for that.
“Those people kind of in power … to write the narrative. He wrote it in a light that made me seem like this big, angry Black man and didn’t shed the light on what provoked that anger. That’s when I learned: This is how life is. This is how this s— goes.”
Brown said people knew “he was a good-hearted kid” and that, coupled with football allowing him to take out his aggression in a positive manner, saved him. He started playing football at age 7. He became a high school defensive line standout and then decided to play for the hometown Cardinals over other schools such as Kentucky, Illinois and Purdue.
“I didn’t want those experiences to deter me from my dream,” said Brown, whom Louisville converted to a guard during his freshman year. “If I ran away from it, then I alter what I aspired to make happen for myself.”
After he made it to the NFL as a 2015 third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, he established the Jamon Brown Foundation devoted to helping at-risk kids and the underprivileged in Louisville. He plans to use his platform to combat issues such as systemic racism, which he said he deals with even today.
“I haven’t been killed for it, but I’ve experienced being treated like I’m not supposed to be somewhere,” Brown said. “I have neighbors that act like I didn’t pay for my house like they paid for theirs. It’s white people that do that to me, and I hate to say that because I have so many white friends. I get random texts from white people saying, ‘I’m sorry that white America doesn’t understand.'”
Brown wants everyone to comprehend the magnitude of the injustice involved in Taylor’s killing. But he said it’s not just Taylor. It’s George Floyd. It’s Ahmaud Arbery. The list goes on.
“It’s too many Black lives that have been wrongfully taken,” Brown said. “There are so many other situations that have been swept under the rug. What you see now is people saying, ‘Enough is enough.'”
Holding the police accountable
Taylor had big plans for her future, working to become a full-time nurse after serving as an emergency room technician and a certified EMT. The circumstances behind her death infuriate Brown.
According to reports, Taylor was shot five times and killed inside her apartment on March 13 after plainclothes police officers forced their way in using a battering ram after midnight to serve a no-knock warrant, which allowed entry without warning or identifying themselves as law enforcement. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg, believing he was an intruder. Police returned fire.
No drugs were found. The target of the probe was not at the scene.
Detective Brett Hankison subsequently was fired. Retiring interim police chief Robert Schroeder said in Hankison’s termination letter that Hankison shot 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment with actions that displayed “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
“We can simply hush things up by firing all the people involved and taking those three officers to trial,” Brown said.
The Louisville Metro Police Department declined to comment when contacted by ESPN, citing the ongoing investigation. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron released a statement saying there was no timetable for the investigation’s conclusion.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, also declined an interview request. Brown shared several moments he had with Palmer during the Louisville protests.
“I told her that everybody is saying her name; everybody knows who Breonna Taylor is,” Brown said of his talks with Palmer. “As bad as it sounds, her daughter was the sacrificial lamb for change. You have people like myself — people who are in places of what people would call power — who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure those who did wrong are held accountable.”
Brown said Taylor’s case feels personal to him because he believes it could have happened to a loved one, such as his mother or sister. He didn’t know Taylor personally but views her as a “little sister.”
Athletes and celebrities have felt the same type of connection to Taylor in speaking out and demanding justice on her behalf. LeBron James wore a red ball cap to the Los Angeles Lakers‘ playoff opener with the words “Make America arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” Oprah Winfrey had Taylor’s face put on the cover of O magazine and put up 26 billboards in Louisville calling for the officers to be arrested. WNBA players have dedicated the season to Taylor, wearing her name on the back of their jerseys.
Brown might not hold the same status as LeBron or Oprah, but he has done as much as anyone to keep Taylor’s memory alive. Participating in the protests was just the start. Brown, who was signed to the Eagles’ active roster from the Chicago Bears‘ practice squad on Tuesday, plans to wear Taylor’s name on the back of his helmet, as the NFL is allowing players to display such decals. Four of his former Atlanta Falcons teammates — Grady Jarrett, Jaylinn Hawkins, Sharrod Neasman, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson — also chose to wear Taylor’s name. Brown said although wearing her name means a lot, it would mean even more to see Taylor’s memory make a long-lasting impact on everyday society.
“It’s moving forward, everywhere,” Brown said. “That’s what I’m pushing for: a new day, a new world.”
The FBI call is aimed at establishing an open dialogue between law enforcement and concerned citizens.
Robert Brown, the special agent in charge of Louisville’s FBI field office, gained respect for Brown a few years ago. A framed picture of the family of Dequante Hobbs, a 7-year-old Louisville boy who was killed by a stray bullet in 2017, sits in the FBI office. The family is holding a No. 7 Rams jersey with “Hobbs” on the back. The jersey was donated by Jamon Brown when he played in Los Angeles.
“It’s helpful to have leaders like Jamon Brown setting an example and saying that, ‘We have a right to answers that we seek, and there’s a way to go about showing support and ensuring that we do have reform,'” special agent Brown said in a phone interview.
“And for someone like Jamon to come back and want to be involved in the lives of the youth is unusual. You don’t see that as often as we should.”
Jamon Brown puts on football camps yearly to connect with Louisville’s youth. He orchestrated a street-cleanup effort one morning after the Taylor protests. And he helped pay the funeral expenses for a 1-month-old child who died in Louisville after being hit by his father in a post-video game tirade.
“Jamon is an amazing attribute to Louisville,” said Amanda Mills, founder of the Southend Street Angels, a Louisville-based organization that helps the homeless. “He inspires many and gives hope to those who may not believe anything is possible.”
On one of the first days he protested in early June, Brown said he had a confrontation with a white police officer in a parking lot off Louisville’s Shelbyville Road. Brown had joined about 30 others to protest on behalf of Taylor. But the officer, according to Brown, threatened to arrest him and others for trespassing.
“That offended me,” Brown said. “We hadn’t even begun to protest yet. We could have said we were just there as customers if those were private businesses there. But he jumped to a conclusion before even knowing.
“At one point, I was chest to chest with the officer. I was slightly nervous because with everything going on, you don’t know what could have transpired. From that point, I knew I was going to stop to bring awareness to the bigger matter: to push Breonna Taylor’s story.”
Brown hasn’t had any second thoughts about his passionate stance toward this cause. Before being released by the Falcons on Aug. 24, he spoke to Atlanta coach Dan Quinn about his activism. He informed Quinn about possibly being arrested during a protest, as Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills and 86 others were when they were protesting at Attorney General Cameron’s home. Stills initially was charged with felony intimidation, but the charges were dropped.
While Brown is focused on football and providing veteran depth for the Eagles, he said he knows his mission of achieving justice for Taylor is far from complete. In an Aug. 11 call organized by Christopher 2X, Brown spoke to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on how to implement measures outside of the new “Breonna’s Law,” which now prohibits no-knock police warrants.
Brown has an even bolder future plan to inspire change in his hometown. He is seriously considering running for mayor after football. He graduated for Louisville with a degree in justice administration.
“I’m potentially trying to be the president,” he said. “I’m going to shoot for the stars and land on the moon.”
Before Brown hits the campaign trail, he wants to see a ruling in the Taylor case beyond a multimillion-dollar financial settlement. Even if he doesn’t find the answers he seeks from the FBI, Brown said it won’t deter him from fighting for justice. It won’t stop his quest for equality.
“I’m alive during times that I read in history books: protests, that’s stuff I’ve watched on movies, not outside my front door,” Brown said. “That’s how real it is. That’s why we’ve got to wake up. White people, you have to wake up.
“It’s either we’re standing together or we’re falling apart.”