What Does Trayvon Martin and Anna Brown Have in Common, Besides Being Black and Dead?

Trayvon Martin and his family deserves justice – yes, there’s no denying this. As I watch the various reports surrounding his death and subsequent attempts to politicize it  in recent weeks. And as I watch many individuals don hoodies and proclaim, “I am Trayvon Martin,” I wonder about the many dead and voiceless people of color. I wonder why aren’t we raising awareness to their injustices?

I wonder about Anna Brown, a single mother who happens to be Black who died in a St. Louis jail cell after being arrested for seeking medical attention in a hospital emergency room. Above all, I wonder how something like this could’ve happened in America and go unnoticed, or fail to gain national attention in the past six months since her death in a jail cell. It was then it hit me: Anna Brown was a Black woman living on a very limited income, and she was homeless. It was after I read the following piece from Christine Byers at stltoday.com that it all made sense:

Anna Brown wasn’t leaving the emergency room quietly.

She yelled from a wheelchair at St. Mary’s Health Center security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn’t stand.

She had already been to two other hospitals that week in September, complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle.

This time, she refused to leave.

A police officer arrested Brown for trespassing. He wheeled her out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.

Brown was 29. A mother who had lost custody of two children. Homeless. On Medicaid. And, an autopsy later revealed, dying from blood clots that started in her legs, then lodged in her lungs.

She told officers she couldn’t get out of the police car, so they dragged her by her arms into the station. They left her lying on the concrete floor of a jail cell, moaning and struggling to breathe. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.

Officers suspected Brown was using drugs. Autopsy results showed she had no drugs in her system.

Six months later, family members still wonder how Brown’s sprained ankle led to her death in police custody, and whether anyone — including themselves — is to blame.

There seems to be no simple answer.

St. Mary’s officials say they did all they were supposed to do for Brown. Richmond Heights police said they trusted a doctor who said she was fit for jail.

Brown’s mother, Dorothy Davis, isn’t sure what to think.

“If the police killed my daughter, I want to know,” she said. “If the hospital is at fault, I want to know. I want to be able to tell her children why their mother isn’t here.”

Davis also faults the St. Louis County Family Court, which she said forced her into a heartbreaking dilemma after the state took away Brown’s children on a claim of neglect. Davis could take in her grandchildren or her daughter, a judge said, but not both.

“I’m mad at myself because if I hadn’t listened to the courts, she would still be here,” Davis said. “If she had been here at this house, she would be here today.”

[…] Anna Brown was one of 10 children. She graduated from Kirkwood High School. At 18, she had her first child, a boy. She had a daughter nine years later. Brown was raising them alone when a tornado destroyed her north St. Louis home on New Year’s Eve 2010. She moved to Berkeley.

Shortly after, she lost her job at a sandwich shop. Bills lapsed. The electricity was turned off. So was the gas. And the water.

Family members say Brown and her children appeared fine during visits at Davis’ home in Normandy.

They weren’t.

In April, a state Children’s Division representative found Brown’s toilet filled with feces. Burn marks scarred the floors and sinks where Brown had used small fires to stay warm. One refrigerator could not be opened. Insects and rotting food filled another, according to state reports given to the Post-Dispatch by Brown’s family.

Brown was not lucid and seemed confused as Berkeley police arrested her for parental neglect. The courts awarded legal custody of the kids to the Children’s Division. Davis could have physical custody, as long as Brown didn’t live with her.

Brown’s home was condemned. She ended up on the streets. She lived in four homeless shelters from May to September 2011.

Brown struggled with officials’ requirements for reuniting with her children. She passed two drug tests but balked at others. “She felt that she had passed them, so there was no point in doing them again,” Davis said.

A court-ordered psychological evaluation to determine whether Brown had cognitive, developmental, behavioral or mental illnesses came back inconclusive. So the courts ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether Brown needed medication or a doctor’s treatment.

But Brown resisted, not understanding the difference between the two evaluations, according to her caseworker’s notes.

Still, she may have known something was wrong. She joined the St. Louis Empowerment Center, a drop-in center for the mentally ill.

“It was like a light bulb went on when she heard others tell their stories,” said Kevin Dean, a peer specialist at the center. “She was just starting to make progress.”

Brown’s witty comments often broke the ice during group meetings, said Warren Brown, another peer specialist and no relation to Anna.

Anna Brown one day said she hurt her ankle while walking near a ditch, Dean and Warren Brown recalled.

The last time they remember seeing her was in August 2011; she said she couldn’t walk up the stairs.

Brown told her caseworker on Sept. 14 that she had been admitted to St. Louis University Hospital for a sprained ankle.

Bills her mother received show Brown stayed at that hospital from Sept. 13-15 and underwent an EKG, some radiology services, lab work and cardiovascular services.

Dorothy Davis, holding 2-year-old granddaughter Isabel Price, talks about the death of her daughter during an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at her home in Normandy, Mo.

“She wasn’t very eager to go home, but we do all we can to take care of the whole patient, and we want to make sure that we do not push someone out the door as soon as she came here,” said SLU spokeswoman Laura Keller. She said there was no indication of a blood clot in Brown’s leg.

Krystle Brown said she saw her sister for the last time after she was discharged from SLU. She dropped Anna off on Market Street downtown, where Anna said she wanted to be.

Davis didn’t want her daughter out in the rain and ordered Krystle to bring her home — regardless of the court order. It was too late. Krystle couldn’t find her sister.

Four days later, Brown had her last supervised visit with her children. She was on crutches.

[…] State inspectors working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — a federal agency that regulates hospitals — interviewed St. Mary’s staff and reviewed medical records after the Post-Dispatch asked about Brown’s case in January.

They found that on Sept. 20, Brown returned to SLU Hospital for knee and ankle pain. X-rays of her knees were negative and she was given a prescription for a painkiller.

She refused to leave. Hospital security called St. Louis police, who responded about 5 a.m. Brown told them she wanted to go to a better hospital but refused to go in an ambulance, police said.

She then wheeled herself next door to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, where doctors found tenderness in her legs. They told her she was at a pediatric hospital. She said she wasn’t leaving unless someone took her to an adult hospital, according to the inspectors.

An ambulance then took her to St. Mary’s, inspectors found. She arrived at 11:45 a.m. Her left ankle was swollen. She was there for about seven hours, during which ultrasounds on both of her legs were negative for blood clots. A nurse said she saw her stand up. A social worker gave her a list of shelters and a phone number for transportation.

She returned eight hours later by ambulance complaining of abdominal pain only, inspectors said. She refused to sign discharge papers but was discharged at 7 a.m.

Richmond Heights Officer Jason Tharp was at St. Mary’s on another call about 10 a.m. when a security officer, Steve Schaffer, told him a woman was claiming she “did not receive adequate medical attention and did not have to leave.”

She was sitting in a wheelchair and told officers she was waiting for a ride. Tharp told her to wait outside or face arrest for trespassing.

“You can’t arrest me. I know my rights, I can’t even stand up!” she yelled, according to police.

Officer Scott Stebelman said he waited for about three hours for a doctor to examine Brown before taking her to jail. At 12:30 p.m., a doctor issued a “Fit for Confinement” report, according to the state inspectors.

The irony of the above story being written this week, is that the Supreme Court listened to arguments on the constitutionality of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Over the past few days, there have been many people in Washinton DC protesting outside of those hearings either in support of or against the current law now touted as “Obamacare”. I’ve even heard it said that a repeal of Obamacare would negatively impact the lives of women across the country. Even so, I wonder just how many people protesting are aware of Anna Brown’s story, and the countless stories of women like her? It’s one thing to rightfully fight for justice for for Trayvon Martin; and, in doing so taking the opportunity to speak out against the racial profiling of Black men in America.

However, with the fastest growing prison population in the last decade or so being women, I believe there is room for a conversation about Anna Brown and the numerous stories of struggling poor Black women like her. Please believe, many of them are dying in prison without being able to receive the proper medical attention. And like Anna, many of them can be diagnosed as mental patients; but, nobody seems to care about them. But this is to be expected when gender and race intersests.

It’s not right, and it’s not acceptable.