News

Washington State Families Speak Out Against Police Brutality, Demand ‘Justice for All!’

Sequence of family speakers noting time each comment begins on the video:

Carey WebsterSuquamish Tribal Elder offers a welcome to the land 0:58

Elaine SimonsFoster mother of Jesse Sarey 17:37

Annaleesa and Fred ThomasParents of Leonard Thomas 21:19

Trishandra PickupWife of Stonechild Chiefstick 26:36

Po LepaiCousin of Iosia Faletogo 33:07

Castill Hightower Sister of Herbert Hightower Jr. 38:05

Katrina JohnsonCousin of Charleena Lyles 42:47

Alexis Dunlap-FrancoisMother of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens 47:11

Frank GittensFather of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens 55:47

Sonia JosephMother of Giovonn Joseph-McDade 58:58

Bill and Patty LangfittParents of Billy Langfitt 1:06:01

Joyce DorseyMother of Che Andre Taylor 1:10:58

Marilyn CovarrubiasMother of Daniel Covarrubias 1:24:42

María GirónAunt of Oscar Perez-Giron 1:30:02

Jim LeightyBest friend of Craig Johnson 1:39:34

Debbie NovakMother of David Novak 1:48:29

Sara LacyWife of Cecil Lacy Jr. 1:55:47

Rose James-ArzateClose friend of Renee Davis 2:02:41

Shelly WashingtonAunt of Kevin Peterson Jr. 2:06:38

Kolten HartBrother of Jesse Sarey 2:13:04

Kari SareyMother of Jesse Sarey 2:14:17

Alana ChiefstickDaughter of Stonechild Chiefstick 2:15:28

Steven SareyCousin of Jesse Sarey 2:17:17

Alana Chiefstick2:30:54

Sonia JosephAnnouncement of March 8 rally in Olympia 2:39:17

Castill Hightower2:46:45

Patty and Bill Langfitt2:48:02


Introduction

On March 4, 2021, a live Facebook video event turned a spotlight on the stories and demands of families who have lost loved ones to police violence in Washington State. A total of 23 people speaking on behalf of 17 families shared the heart-wrenching truth about the ongoing plague of police murders with few if any criminal consequences. That video has been shared 175 times on Facebook. World-Outlook.com hopes to continue that process.

The video is often painful to watch, as it is painful for the impacted families to share the truth and relive the facts of the death of their loved one. At the same time it is an inspiring experience thanks to the courage, determination, and spirit of solidarity among all those who participated. One can see every family reaching out to lift up every other family in the ongoing fight for justice.

The fight is ongoing and families like these are showing the way forward. This event was one of several held across the U.S. between March 4 and March 8 to coincide with the opening of the trial of Derek Chauvin, one of the cops who murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, 2020. That murder and the massive explosion of protest against it, served as one organizer of the March 4 meeting put it, “as a catalyst” for families all over the country to demand justice for their loved ones, also cut down by police terror. The stark racist character of the majority of this police violence is clear, but as the video shows it also affects families of all skin colors.

The demands made by these Washington family members come through loud and clear in their testimony. They want the cops responsible prosecuted and jailed. They want every case in which police used deadly force to be reopened and investigated independently. They want genuine police accountability for murder and terror. They are further united in the idea that the movement against cop violence must be a movement for justice for every impacted family; for Justice for All. As some put it, “Stronger Together!”

Above is a list of each family member who spoke March 4, the loved one they have lost and the time on the video where their remarks begin. Below are transcripts of brief remarks by the three moderators of the meeting as well as the transcript of the testimony of Castill Hightower. Of the tragic deaths recounted at this meeting, the murder of Castill’s brother, Herbert Hightower Jr., was the first, in 2004. All the testimony from every family member is powerful and needs to be heard.

Speaking at the end of the meeting Brian Taylor appealed to viewers to support these families and join their fights for justice: “Tonight is not just for information. This is so that if you can, if you are watching this, if you live near them or you don’t, if you think you can help…the families who are here, telling their stories, reach out to them. When you hear their name look for their Facebook pages, look for a way to contact them, reach out and become part of their support.”

Geoff Mirelowitz, Editor, World-Outlook.com


Brian Taylor: I want to start by welcoming Aloni Welker, who is a young leader of protest activities against police brutality in the Cincinnati area who volunteered to help facilitate the event today.

Aloni Welker speaking at March 4 event.

Aloni Welker: Hello all. Thank you so much for being here. Just a little bit of background about me. I, like a lot of young people this past year, got involved with the fight against police brutality after George Floyd [was killed by the police]. I was out protesting. I was exposed to tear gas and maced in the face by the Cincinnati police department. That is what pushed me to begin locally organizing. I’ve been able to learn a lot in the past year, especially from people like Brian, who have been willing to work with me. I recently learned how important it is to center the families in this fight. We are seeing George Floyd being blown up all over mainstream media, but many people don’t realize there are a lot of George Floyds in their home as well. I think that while none of you should have to have the strength that you are using right now, I am eternally grateful because you are so inspirational, to be here and to be fighting for your loved ones. It does mean the world to me. I think this is what is going to make this fight sustained and it’s going to create real change. Because it’s not just a movement or an abstract idea. It’s real people like you standing up and saying you’ve had enough. So, in the light of respecting your time, all I want to say is that I am very humble to be here. Thank you. Back to you Brian.

Brian Taylor spaking at March 4 event.

BT: My name is Brian Taylor. I am just a supporter who is trying nationally to help organize events like this, whether they be digital, or in person, or a combination of those things, around the country. I work with a group called Mass Action nationally and locally I am in the Cincinnati Anti Police Brutality Coalition.

As Aloni said, after George Floyd was killed by police, this country exploded in social protest. Millions were moved into opposition to police violence. Many became active in the fight for justice for the first time. This is good news. But the direction of that energy was missing two important elements. One, the elevation of all impacted families in that horrible club. And two, the promotion of the central demands of nearly all families, which are fire, prosecute, and jail killer cops. I believe the omission of these two things was not accidental. But I also believe that hundreds of thousands of young people and other activists simply didn’t know any better.

What was the result? The focus shifted away from families, and so did essential funds and attention. The character of the actions shifted. Many of you who are going to be speaking know this. This is for people who are watching. A family-led movement right now is not aimed at fighting police. We will defend ourselves vigorously against anyone who attacks any action we carry out, but we are not aiming to provoke them. A family-led movement is not organizing to get people arrested. It sucks away money that can help impacted families get lawyers and handle other expenses, instead of raising money to get the person you organized to get jail out of jail. I am not against bail funds. But I just am against organizing events that aim to create martyrs.

We need to build large mass actions where the largest number of people feel comfortable showing support. People with records, people without documentation need to feel that they can participate with a reasonable chance of not being arrested. We don’t need actions right now of only the bravest. We can help educate this movement by providing the example that no matter what else you want to push for in the fight against police violence—bills, legislation, de-funding, and other measures aimed at weakening the police in general—the central focus has to be on getting consequences for the cops who abuse and murder us. The government is quick to say, “Yeah, that cop made a mistake, but if we pass this or that bill, it will never happen again.” But then it happens, again, and again. Meanwhile, that cop who took one of our lives fades out of importance, remains employed, and often is part of doing it again, as some of your stories reveal. We are saying no! It starts with the actual cops that kill. Fire and put them away, so that they won’t do it again. That’s the biggest deterrent to other cops.

So re-introducing families, all families, to the center of this discussion can reshape our field of battle and put all that energy we saw last May that came out of the fight we saw for George Floyd, into proper balance and closer to one voice calling for police who murder in every city to be held accountable. Not for what they promise to do in the future but for the crimes they have already committed.

We want to build a national anti-police brutality movement of families, and their honest supporters, that can take their rightful and righteous place in guiding the demands and directions of this movement. That’s why I am here. That’s why I put everything I can into supporting you all.


Elaine Simons speaking at March 4 event.

Elaine Simons: My name is Elaine Simons. It is a tragedy that I must share my personal story of the murder of my foster son Jesse Sarey by Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson on May 31, 2019. My foster son Jesse was the 19th person in 2019 killed by police deadly use of force in the state of Washington under I-940 [Washington Initiative 940 was approved by 59.6% of the popular vote in the state in 2018 to create a good faith test to determine when the use of deadly force by police is justifiable—WO]. He was 25 years old. Jesse’s family came to America from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime to escape being killed after being in a refugee camp for six years. Jesse was the first generation to be born here. His mother is heart-broken that life in America has been a difficult journey for her children.

Ten days earlier in Auburn, Washington, Enosa ‘EJ’ Strickland, of Samoa Hawaian background, was also killed by Auburn police, as he was waiting for a ride home from his parents. It is imperative to ensure oversight and accountability of police officers and correctional officers. In the case of dangerous police officers like Jeff Nelson, who is responsible for three deaths in Auburn, and numerous incidents of force and violence, this officer’s certification should have been revoked for his pattern of behavior. Our hope is that if measures like SB 5051 were in place Jesse would be alive today. [SB 5051 is a proposed Washington State Senate Bill, “Concerning state oversight and accountability of peace officers and corrections officers.”—WO] It is our moral obligation to hold police accountable for their erroneous behavior, to ensure good officers continue doing their public service.

Our family was blessed under the I-940 to be the first case that is going to trial. Officer Jeff Nelson was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault. Many of the family members that are here today stood with our family in solidarity at our arraignment. Our family is committed that our justice is justice for all of you. One of our demands is going to be re-opening and looking at all the Washington cases and to really allow other families to be able to have their day in court.

I really want to thank you guys for coming and joining us tonight. It is an honor to be among you, not for the reason that we are here together, but because you are strong, you are brave, and your voices are going to be heard not just in Washington but across the nation.


Castill Hightower: Thank you Po, thank you for that. I just want to say that I am here in solidarity with all of the families. My heart goes out to everyone. Justice for all victims of police violence and brutality.

Castill Hightower (right), speaking at March 4 event. Pictured in the background is her brother Herbert Hightower Jr., killed by the police in 2004, and his son.

In the spirit of the justice for George Floyd movement, Black lives matter, and all impacted families and victims of police violence, I come before you all in solidarity and of like mind. I stand with you as we stand together, demanding accountability and the enactment of change, of justice, of not another life taken. For I and so many like me have felt the personal and incomprehensible pain that comes with losing a loved one to police violence.

For those who don’t know me, I am Castill Hightower. In 2004, my brother, Herbert Hightower Jr., a man in crisis and experiencing mental anguish, deserving of the compassion and humanity denied to him, was shot and killed by Seattle police, just feet from our home. To this day no officer has been charged or held accountable for his senseless killing.

Fortunately, we were able to obtain the public records, but not without the support of over 2,900 community members who signed a petition demanding their release, as well as a letter signed by all nine Seattle City Council members. Thank you!

However, adding insult to injury, not only did SPD [Seattle Police Department] take over 120 days to release the public records in their entirety, we also discovered that among the knives Herbert was so vilified for allegedly having were ordinary butter knives. I can’t explain what it feels like to think that my brother may have lost his life over a butter knife and the wide range of opportunities that could have been alternatively chosen that would have saved his life. It’s a shocking detail to uncover.

But unfortunately there has been a pattern by SPD, and police forces across the country, of those experiencing mental-health crises losing their lives instead of receiving the compassionate care they so deserve. A far too often occurring and preventable tragedy that has claimed the lives of countless others, including Derek Hayden, who was shot and killed by SPD while experiencing a mental-health crisis just last month [Feb. 16, 2021]. May he rest in peace!

Within the public records that my family received, we also learned that officer Steve Hirjak, now elevated to Assistant Chief within the Seattle Police Department, was the officer who pulled the trigger that ultimately ended my brother’s life. It seems, instead of being held accountable for my brother’s death, he was promoted to one of the highest ranks in the department. We, like so many other families, have had to bury our loved ones with zero consequences given to those who took them from us. We hope that with the growing demands of the movement for justice for victims of police violence and the passage of recent legislation, among other milestones, that this will one day change, not only for us, but all impacted families.

Herbert was a devoted father, loving brother, and irreplaceable community member loved by so many. His absence has left a deep and irreplaceable hole in our hearts that even time cannot heal. His laugh, smile, and big heart created so much joy. But it isn’t lost on me that even if he wasn’t the wonderful person that he was, he, as a human being, as a member of our community, still deserved to be treated with humanity and compassion, regardless. For a vilification of a victim’s character is not the sum total of who they are. Nor is it a license to kill. Simply put, his right to life deserved to be honored.

At this time, we are still open to working with any attorneys who are willing to look into Herbert’s case. We want to say thank you for all of the support given to us by the community so far. It has helped us get through the most trying of times. We are abundantly grateful. You can also continue to support us fighting for justice by going to GoFundMe, which will help us with legal fees and other costs associated with fighting for accountability and justice. Please also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now TikTok by searching the hashtag #justiceforherberthightowerjr. Thank you everyone. I stand in solidarity.


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