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Ferguson, consider Brown's parents

By William Bell and Valerie Bell
updated 4:30 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
  • William and Valerie Bell's son was unarmed when police killed him on his wedding day
  • Bells: Police too often kill unarmed black men; Brown's death has roiled Ferguson
  • The Bells stand in solidarity with Ferguson's call for justice in the killing of the unarmed teen
  • Bells: But protests must be nonviolent for the sake of the Brown family, who need peace

Editor's note: William and Valerie Bell are the parents of Sean Bell, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by New York police officers on November 25, 2006. The officers who shot Bell were acquitted. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

(CNN) -- The intense situation in Ferguson, Missouri, is disturbingly familiar to us. In November, it will be eight years since we suffered the same tragedy as Michael Brown's parents. Our unarmed son, Sean Bell, was killed in a barrage of 50 shots fired by New York plainclothes police officers on his wedding day, November 25, 2006.

Our prayers go out to the Brown family, and we offer Michael's parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., our hearts and support. We know how it feels to have your child snatched away, slain by the police. I remember the gut-wrenching moment we learned the details of our son's brutal final moments.

Valerie and William Bell
Valerie and William Bell

As if that wasn't enough, we also had to deal with the public defamation of our son's character, which seemed to be saying: "He was an animal, he deserved to die." The killing of unarmed black men has become a staggering pattern across the United States, and for the city of Ferguson, the outrage has reached its boiling point.

But we are concerned about the effects the citizens' outrage and their retributive actions might have on the grieving family. My wife, Valerie, believes the racial situation in Ferguson has forced its citizens to aggressively rebel against the infringement of their civil rights. It's true, protesters initially responded to the killing with violence and looting -- which, if continued at that level, would have ultimately destroyed their community and produced the opposite of what they were fighting for in their search for justice.

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The Brown family called for peace in the midst of looting and violent protesting. Although the looting has stopped, clashes between protesters and police stayed heightened this week, with the Missouri National Guard, troopers and police in riot gear confronting angry demonstrators. The chaos is reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement. I was born and raised in Alabama and clearly recall the protesters armed with passion for change, protest signs, and their voice of power confronting police armed with batons, water hoses, shotguns and police dogs.

In this new day, things are different. Various reports, often contested, say police and protesters were in full battle, with armed police using armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets as shotguns rang out and some protesters threw Molotov cocktails. The tactics have changed in the new generation's battle, but the causes remain the same: justice and equality. My wife and I stand in solidarity with Ferguson's call for justice in the killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

But we also stand with the Brown family's call for peaceful protesting. It seems protests are calming down, which is very good news. During this dynamic climate of change in Ferguson, it is imperative not to lose sight of what is in the best interest of the family.

Ferguson seems to be in a civil war as Michael Brown's family struggles with the legal complexity of this fight. They are at the core of it all. Many miles must be traveled in their journey for justice. My wife and I know well the transitional process the Brown family must endure. Finding a balance between fighting for justice and mourning the loss of your child can become overwhelmingly challenging.

When their time comes to lay their son to rest, it should be a time of peace, giving the family space for grieving and moving forward. Many emotions are running high in Ferguson. However, not one of those emotions can compare with the anguish the family is experiencing; and that should be considered throughout this journey for justice.

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