Ricky Jones: Why Quintez Brown deserves my help, not tossed on the scrap heap of humanity

My former student Quintez Brown appeared in federal court recently. Leg irons clanked as he shuffled into the room. The formerly handsome, curious and kindhearted boy who lit up my office with laughter over the years now sat before me bedraggled, staring blankly into space with flat affect. I thought, “My God. What has happened to this young man?” I cried.

There we were, hearing the case of the United States v. Quintez Brown. I wasn’t sure how we got there. In a city where the federal government refused to intervene when Breonna Taylor was killed by agents of the state and many people didn’t trust the state to legitimately prosecute her killers, the United States was now vigorously going after young, mentally unbalanced Quintez Brown.

Mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg was shot at by a gunman during a campaign staff meeting Monday morning. Local activist and former Courier Journal intern, Quintez Brown, has been arrested as a suspect in the investigation. On Tuesday, Greenberg spoke with the Courier Journal about his feelings and priorities in the wake of the shooting. Feb. 15, 2022

Brown’s lead attorney, Rob Eggert, had argued from the beginning of the case that Brown is “severely mentally ill” and belongs in a treatment facility, not a jail. Psychiatric experts agree. Brown was committed to a mental institution for a time after he was initially bailed out after state charges were levied against him. A psychiatrist there testified that he suffered from “major depressive disorder.” Another psychiatrist diagnosed Brown with “bipolar disorder with thoughts of suicide.”

More: Quintez Brown detained for now as new evidence is revealed in the Craig Greenberg shooting

The United States didn’t care. Brown and his family followed the rules of home incarceration to the letter, but that didn’t stop the United States from dramatically seizing him from his grandmother’s home. A helicopter was even dispatched to hover overhead for good measure. They indicted him on federal charges that carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in prison.

Assistant U.S. attorney Amanda Gregory and her co-counsel Jolee Porter sought to make the case that Brown wasn’t mentally ill at all, but rather a cold and calculating “radicalized” assassin. They pulled out all the stops. They painted him as “against democracy” and a believer in violence. Gregory grotesquely twisted quotes from Huey Newton cited by Brown in one of his writings to make her point.

When challenged, it was clear she hadn’t read Newton. But that didn’t matter to her.

Gregory zeroed in on Brown’s written observations that Blacks in America were politically, economically and socially disempowered and the two-party system hadn’t changed those dynamics. She dismissed the truth of that argument and continued to demonize Brown. She did so with absolutely no awareness of her surroundings.

Ricky Jones and Quintez Brown
Ricky Jones and Quintez Brown

There she stood in a courtroom with a young, mentally ill Black boy in shackles, oblivious to the fact that he was the only dark piece on the chessboard. The prosecutors representing the United States, white. The defense attorneys, white (because Black people often feel most Black attorneys won’t receive the same respect when push comes to shove). The bailiff, white. The security at the doors, white. The court reporter, white. The judge, white. Yet Gregory persisted, seemingly giving her contradictions no thought.

The United States dispatched Gregory and Porter to send Quintez Brown away for a very long time, not to have empathy. To be sure, outside the courtroom, some people don’t think ANY of us should have an ounce of concern for Brown and they have been alarmingly aggressive about it.

When I told a friend I was writing this piece she repeatedly warned, “PLEASE be careful!” One of my older fraternity brothers sent a note, “Be careful, my brother. Don’t let Brown take you down.” There have been a number of “concerned” contacts from people who have said in one way or another, “You need to keep your distance from Quintez Brown.”

Be careful, indeed.

When this incident initially occurred, Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields intimated that the shooting may have happened because “Mr. Greenberg is Jewish.” To this day, there is no evidence of that, but the narrative has taken hold. Now, claims of antisemitism are flying fast and furiously. Not only is Brown cast as an antisemite, so are those of us who have any modicum of affection for him.

More from Ricky Jones: What happened to the brilliant Quintez Brown? | Opinion

Is this what it’s come to? Are we to live in fear of professional and social ruin because we have compassion for a clearly mentally unhinged individual and his poor family lost in a sea of grief? Can we not simultaneously balance sympathy for Craig Greenberg, empathy for Quintez Brown and love for them both?

Can I be so casually demonized as anti-Jewish, not just by the faceless on social media, but also by prominent people who have never taken the time to speak to me, because I have concern for my student and want to know what destroyed the mind of a young man for whom I had such high hopes?

Can a Black friend of mine who has unfailingly shown individual and collective love and support for our Jewish brothers and sisters now be so quickly labeled antisemitic because she supports a Black candidate for mayor instead of Craig Greenberg?

Is that what it has come to? Or is that the way it’s always been, and we simply didn’t know it? I’m beginning to wonder. I’m wondering about that and more.

After Quintez Brown’s initial release, Sen. Mitch McConnell railed on the floor of the U.S. Senate that a “left-wing bail fund partnered with BLM” to post his bond. He fumed, “Less than 48 hours after this activist tried to literally murder a politician, the radical left bailed their comrade out of jail. It is just jaw-dropping. The innocent people of Louisville deserve better.”

Later, McConnell would call the idea that he had influenced the federal government’s decision to intervene in the case “laughable.” That’s not laughable, it’s actually quite reasonable. But several other claims pushed by the United States are, indeed, laughable.

Joe Gerth: Quintez Brown case shows need for bail reform and greater mental health services

They characterize Quintez Brown as a gunsmith who brushed up on his skills at a firing range before attempting to kill Greenberg. He was such an adept gun handler that he loaded a bullet into his weapon backward. Brown was such a deft assassin that he stood within a few feet of an unsuspecting man, fired repeatedly... and missed with every shot.

Quintez Brown did not suffer from mental challenges at all. In fact, he was so lucid and calculating that his master plan was to arrive at a building unmasked in broad daylight on a Bird scooter, kill a man and call a Lyft for his getaway car. That’s totally sane.

U.S. attorney Amanda Gregory took the Brown as master assassin storyline even farther in her closing. She argued before the court that if Brown was released there was a danger of him “completing the job” and even theorized that he may have been developing plans to kill another candidate. In his hearing summation, Magistrate Judge Colin Lindsay called that particular extrapolation “absurd.”

Be clear, I and others have repeatedly said if Quintez Brown did what he’s accused of doing, he was wrong. There is no quibbling about that. And thank God Craig Greenberg was not harmed. But those of us who care about Quintez want to know why he did it and what happened to this poor boy’s mind. We want him to be helped. Folks on the other side don’t care about that. They simply want this young man thrown on the scrap heap of humanity.

The United States is prosecuting Quintez Brown, literally. They don’t care about context, his mental state, or potential. They don’t care if he ever sees the light of day again. They don’t want to rehabilitate him. They don’t want to simply punish him. They seem hellbent on crucifying him, possibly sending him away for life and forgetting him. And I don’t think that’s right.

At the end of the hearing to decide whether to release Quintez to home incarceration again, the judge sent word asking if I would serve as his co-third-party custodian along with his grandmother. Yes, that carries responsibilities and comes at some legal and financial risk for me if things go wrong. And yes, I agreed without hesitation. I’m not sure if the judge would have ruled in Quintez’s favor had I not.

I am sure that I had no choice after I looked at his family. His mother, father and stepmother were worried and in tears. His grandmother sat crestfallen and obviously prayerful. She reminded me of my own grandmother who raised me in the largely hopeless housing projects of Atlanta after my mother gave birth to me at 15 and my father was nowhere to be found. And here I was, that poor Black boy now, grown into a relatively accomplished man who was in a position to help. I knew my grandmother would have wanted somebody to help me if my life had spiraled out of control and was laid prostrate before the authorities.

So, yes – I helped! People who have warned me may be right and I may suffer for it somehow. But I swear before God almighty that I’d do it again!

Ricky Jones.
March 14, 2019
Ricky Jones. March 14, 2019

Dr. Ricky L. Jones is professor and chair of the Pan-African Studies department at the University of Louisville. His column appears bi-weekly in the Courier-Journal. Visit him at rickyljones.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Ricky Jones: Why Quintez Brown and his family deserve my help | Opinion