April ought to be the month that we not only reflect upon the crucifixion of Jesus but also the untimely deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, the man who, it was often suggested, would become the nation's first Black president.
What's the connection? So glad you asked.
If the reporters at the time had stopped talking and writing about the assassination of Jesus, what Scriptures would Christians have to base their faith upon? The Jesus followers could no more have depended upon the Roman soldiers to report truthfully on the crucifixion than we can depend upon the FBI and the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover to set the record straight on the assassinations of King and Brown.
Brown was killed on April 3, 1996, on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the April 4, 1968 assassination of Dr. King.
Brown was the first African American to chair the Democratic National Committee. President Bill Clinton credited Brown, the consummate Washington insider powerbroker, as one of the main reasons why he won the White House in 1994.
It has been more than a decade since the plane that Brown and 34 other passengers were riding in crashed on a mountaintop in Croatia. To this day, the following mysteries still remain:
• Forensic experts for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, who examined Brown at a mortuary in Dover, Del., reported that Brown had a circular hole in his head that was the size and shape of a gunshot wound. A search of the crash site showed no piece of debris that could make such a perfectly drill-punched hole.
• X-rays taken of Brown's head showed fragments resembling the pattern of a disintegrating bullet. The institute later conceded that those X-rays turned up missing.
• Shortly before U.S. investigators could reach Niko Jerkuic, who was in charge of the Croatian airport's navigation system, he was found dead from a gunshot wound in the chest — an alleged suicide.
• Although initial reports, such as Time Magazine, reported that one of the worst storms in a decade thwarted Brown's plane from landing, later reports showed only drizzling rain.
Granted, there could be many explanations as to why Brown was the only one to have a suspicious gunshot wound since the plane was flying near areas involved in a civil war. But the possibility remains: someone could have executed Brown and parachuted off the plane.
Whatever the reasons, the U.S. government's failures created suspicions of a political assassination. Several pathologists called for an autopsy. It still has not been done and the pathologists who tried to alert the public that something was wrong had their careers ruined, according to Jack Cashill, author of "Ron Brown's Body."
In my book, "No I Won't Shut Up," I tell of a conversation I had with one of those experts, Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, shortly before he was officially muzzled. Dr. Cogswell was the institute's deputy medical examiner who asked his supervisors to perform the autopsy. "This whole think stinks," he told them.
Shortly after his forthrightness, Cogswell told me, "I have been re-assigned. I have been demoted because of my reporting on Brown. Sometimes I feel my life is endangered, but people only get 'disappeared' if they are going to tell something, I have already talked and I have no new revelations, so the cat is already out of the bag. Without an autopsy it is just as irresponsible to say the wound was caused by a bullet as to say it was not."
Why would anyone kill Brown? And if someone wanted to kill him, why take 34 innocent people with him? Cashill pointed out that Brown was the man who knew too much, was heavily involved in alleged illegal fund-raising activities for the Clintons and had mouthed off about not going down alone. Moreover, in the light of the then recent suspicions around the so-called suicide of Vince Foster, another suicide might have raised too many suspicions.
Why do I care? I care not only because murder is immoral and illegal, but also because if African Americans do not care, how can you expect "the Romans" to care?
I care because two weeks before his death, Brown sent me an invitation to attend one of his high-powered Cabinet meetings. Oddly enough, I had been in Washington journalism circles for more than 20 years and had never heard from Brown. We were not friends. He was not a source. But that day when he announced a new program to aid Africa, he called me to watch.
At a time when I hear no mainstream political leaders calling attention to the mysterious death of Ron Brown, I am watching, just like I believe Brown knew I would.
Rev. Barbara Reynolds is a columnist for the National Newspaper Publisher's Association.