Pittsburgh: Mother Goes on Hunger Strike, Demands Justice for Son

By Peter Cherry

On July 21, Duquesne University announced that it was going to honor the demands of Dannielle Brown, including cooperation with an independent investigation of her son’s death (and any police involvement), body camera requirements and mental status exams for the officers. Dannielle declared the beginning of her hunger strike for her son Jaylen at Freedom Corner, the historic location in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh where many would board buses heading south in the fight for democratic rights during the Civil Rights movement.

Marquis Jaylen Brown died on October 4, 2018 just blocks away from the Freedom Corner at Duquesne University, where he was a student and football player. He mysteriously fell 16 stories from his dorm room window in the presence of several police. According to eyewitnesses, which included two University police officers, campus security, and a residential assistant, Jaylen “picked up a chair and broke a window” before “jumping out the window.” These were the findings of a Duquesne University investigation, which never interviewed the victim’s mother, Dannielle.

Dannielle’s demands included the university’s full cooperation with an independent investigation into her son’s death, giving full access to records, sources of information, and resources, as well as for body cameras to be put on all university police and for mandatory certification training in mental health crisis intervention and de-escalation for first responders.

News of Dannielle’s hunger strike has garnered sympathy from many across Pittsburgh. Since the start of the hunger strike, tents have been set up near her protest, where supplies have been set up to support her and keep her company. On the 12th day of her hunger strike, Dannielle and others marched on Duquesne University to demand answers.

Duquesne has since doubled down on their version of the events, inviting Dannielle to a “discussion.” Most of the working people of Pittsburgh and Black people in particular can see through these ruling class diversions and know that an elite institution like Duquesne will not surrender their armed enforcers without fierce struggle.

Dannielle is still there at Freedom Corner, in the same rocking chair in which she had rocked her son Jaylen when he was a baby. On day 20 of her hunger strike, she announced that the struggle goes on, citing skepticism of whether the university will actually give “full access” to all the information that the independent investigation needs.