With mom by his side, Andrew Brundidge, 9, watched the tragic viral video of Philando Castile.
“He said, Mommmm, he’s dying,” said Sheletta Brundidge. “I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ And we rehearsed what you do when the police tell you to do something.”
Andrew decided to write a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton after seeing the video posted by Diamond Reynolds moments after her boyfriend was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer. Andrew is worried about his three younger siblings, who are autistic.
Andrew read the letter to me Monday as mom was driving him to basketball camp: “I think there should be a law saying that officers must have a true and good reason to shoot someone. Plus, they must look at the required license. I myself on behalf of black people everywhere don’t think it’s right. … I have three siblings with autism. One of them can’t talk. I will not let him die because of that. I hope you can make a difference. Sincerely, Andrew Brundidge.”
Andrew and Sheletta tried to deliver the letter in person, but couldn’t get through the crowd outside the governor’s residence. So it’s arriving by mail.
“His concern,” said Sheletta, a former Twin Cities radio personality and TV producer, “is … If the police tell me to stop, I understand what they are saying, Mom, and I will stop. But what if they tell Daniel to stop? He can’t talk yet. What’s going to happen to him, Mom? What if Brandon doesn’t understand what they are telling him to do or he starts running and jumping? Are they going to shoot him? I don’t want my siblings to die because they have autism and don’t understand what police are telling them.”
She and her husband, Shawn, are back in Minnesota, where Andrew was born, after several years in her hometown Houston, Texas, “because Shawn got a great job and we missed y’all. There isn’t anything like coming back here. We’ve got all our old friends and our old church. We have so much love here. We missed all of that.”
She has had to adjust because in Houston is Sheletta’s mom, a great help when their family expanded to include Brandon, 3, Cameron, 2, and Daniel, 1. All are on the autism spectrum.
Andrew has grown a lot since he was the model baby on the side of Target brand diapers. And he’s smart. An A student? “I’m an A-B student,” he corrected me.
Because Andrew is so smart, Sheletta said, “We keep him up on current events. He watches the news both local and national. When the video came out of Philando Castile, we watched it together.”
Andrew’s indoctrination into being a black male in American society began early.
“We have taught him since he was 3 years old that police are there to do a job and you are to respect them and do what they ask him to do — even if you did not do anything wrong. If they say you did something, you follow their instructions. He is a young black boy in the United States of America and he must operate by a different set of rules. It’s sad but it’s true.
“We have seen that play out over and over again and so we have drilled that into his head since he was 3 years old: Do what they tell you to do. … You don’t EVER talk back to police. You don’t EVER plead your case. That’s what your parents are for …. We will plead your case.”
Sheletta has performed as a comedian, but she’s been dead serious about preparing Andrew for the world. She once grabbed him by the neck and pushed him up against the wall, as part of the training for a future police encounter.
He still sometimes forgets he’s a black child.
“Andrew has asthma. He keeps that inhaler on him at all times. … When he was coming out of Wal-Mart he was holding his jacket pocket so his inhaler wouldn’t fall out and when I looked back and saw him I grabbed him … . ‘Son, if you hold your pocket they are going to think you stole something. Don’t hold your pocket. Keep your hands down by your side when you’re in a store.’
“Just last week, girl, I had to punish him. They don’t have any fences [in our neighborhood] so everybody’s yard is kind of connected. The neighbors left their dog out and Andrew was playing with the dog. When he got ready to come inside he thought, ‘I better take their dog inside, too, because otherwise he’ll be outside by himself.’ So my son — bless his heart, he doesn’t know better yet — gets the dog and takes him in those people’s back door. I said, ‘You can’t do that!’ … I said, ‘Son, it’s sad but you’re a black boy and if something comes up missing … they may think you stole something. It’s not fair, but this is what happens if you’re black.’ ”
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show” and “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count. Attachments are not opened.