A panel of women whose children died at the hands of police in Jamaica and the U.S. opened their hearts to a sympathetic room in a church down the street from the Department of Justice on the evening of September 21.
The “Police Killings: Struggling For Justice From The US To Jamaica” event was organized by the Coalition of Concerned Mothers (CCM), Amnesty International USA, and Stop Police Terror DC. They brought two Jamaican women to the American capital to talk about their experiences with the police killing members of their own family. The sons of the two other panelists died at the hands of American police. None of these women discussed the justice they’d received because none of them felt that they had received justice.
The women will speak about their experiences in a Congressional Briefing at 12pm ET today (Friday, September 22). The Briefing will be in Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2060.
The women were introduced by Sean Blackmon, a DC-local and radio presenter on “By Any Means Necessary”.
The grieving mothers and sisters were also joined on the panel by April Goggans, a local racial justice organizer, who admitted that although she had not lost a child to police violence, she felt a duty to work in solidarity with the women who had. Goggans described the event as, “A discussion of police killings in both the United States and Jamaica, and how they are related and similar.”
The first panelist, Simone Grant, began her account with tears. “I’m not at the stage yet where I can talk and not cry,” she said. In January 2013 her brother, Matthew Lee, gave a ride to a man who the Kingston police wanted dead. She claimed that they were ambushed and murdered. The police claimed there was a shoot-out. When she saw the crime scene there were no bullet holes in her car, “Just blood on the pavement,” she said.
Some of her pain came from the media smearing her brother, repeating the alleged lie that the men had engaged in a shootout. Neither Grant nor Shackelia Jackson, the second panelist, had expected the Jamaican courts to provide them with justice against police defendants. In her account, Jackson admitted that she would have preferred that a civilian criminal murdered her brother because she felt justice would have been more likely.
Jackson recounted how her brother, Nakiea, ran a restaurant near her house when a policeman ran in and shot him twice just before the lunch rush in January 2014. The officer then dragged him to his car and took him to a hospital to die. This story was reflected in three accounts from women whose families were the victims of Jamaican police violence.
Following the murder of her brother, Jackson shaved her head, divorced her husband, and became an advocate for reform in the Jamaican system of justice. She later talked about how the killer cop trembled when he sat next to her in the trial, which eventually acquitted him. According to Jackson, he had lost weight and became a broken man.
The third account, from Carol Gray, bridged the theme of the panel. Gray grew up in Jamaica and remembered the police shooting people in front of her before dragging them off to die. Her nephew had been a weed dealer who managed to escape legal prosecution thanks to crooked cops and bail from his mother. One night the police raided his apartment and shot him in his living room with his pregnant wife and children a room away.
Gray had also lost her 16-year-old son, Kimani, to the NYPD in March 2013. She thought that she had protected her children from police violence by bringing them up in the US. She said that when she first heard what happened, she’d “assumed it had just been a stray bullet.”
Upon leaving a birthday party on a Saturday night, according to Gray, two sans-uniform officers pestered Kimani for information on his older brother. Kimani attempted to run from them and took a barrage of fire. Gray claimed that the police cordoned off the area and refused access to first-responders. According to a New York Times story, the police claimed that Kimani had pointed a revolver at them. His friends claimed to be unaware that he had a gun, even though a revolver was found at the scene. The officers were not prosecuted.
The final tragic account came from Beverly Smith whose 27-year-old son, Alonzo (Zo) Smith, died at the hands of special police in Marbury Plaza apartment complex, Southeast DC. Zo was murdered in November 2015. Special police are a privatized police force who are deputized to police a given area. According to Goggans, they have the power to do all of the work a police officer does, short of transporting those under arrest.
The officers who killed Zo had jurisdiction over the apartment complex he had come to that night crying, “They’re trying to kill me.” He tried to find refuge but was met with a brutal and fatal dose of escalated force.
His autopsy had diagnosed two likely causes of death. One was acute cocaine toxicity, which apparently caused a heart attack. The second was compression of the torso. Smith finds these diagnoses to be contradictory and troubling. The police found her son handcuffed and unresponsive in a hallway, but did not declare him dead until he arrived at the hospital. Her son suffered from extensive trauma to the neck and chest. It took 48-hours for DCPD to announce Zo’s killing, and deflected responsibility on behalf of the police department upon their announcement. The special officers were not charged, despite the autopsy determining that his death was homicide.
Smith founded a grief counseling group for parents going through this trauma. The Circle Of Love And Support meets on Tuesdays in Anacostia Neighborhood Library.
During the question period after the panel, a black mother of a murdered daughter stood up. Gina Best lost her daughter, India Kager, in a case of police brutality in Virginia Beach in September 2015. The police had targeted her passenger and the father of their daughter Angelo Delano Perry based on an apparent anonymous tip. Their infant daughter was in the backseat when the police tossed a flash-bang grenade at the car and opened fire. In the YouTube video of the incident, the police seem to shoot into the car without any hesitation.
Best wanted to ask the panel how she should explain India’s death to her granddaughter. She expressed deep pain. “I don’t want to forgive them,” she said. Jackson responded and told her about her own continued fight for justice. Jackson proceeded with how the cop who killed her brother trembled in her presence and how, despite never witnessing justice on the matter, his guilty feelings and lost salary were a small victory.
The clear lesson from this panel was that these women need support and solidarity in their search for justice and the emotional labor required to overcome their pain. The event also opened my eyes to the sheer number of parents dealing with this pain. A large proportion of the audience were black women from CCM with similar stories to the panelists.
In her remarks, Goggans said that she thinks that we are all culpable for allowing the police to continue murdering young, black men with impunity. This is both a sober reflection on the inaction of white communities on this issue and a rallying call for people to join organizations like Black Lives Matter, Students United For Racial Justice, and other groups fighting to change the current environment that leads black people to fear for their lives while interacting with the police.
If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Rhys and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!