By Argiris Malapanis and Geoff Mirelowitz
Mar. 23, 2021— Protests took place across the United States, leading up to the March 8 opening of the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd. Demonstrators demanded Chauvin’s conviction and used the attention focused on that case to highlight the many other ongoing fights against police brutality and racism across the country.
The George Floyd case drew widespread condemnation and mass protests last year after video footage showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during a May 2020 arrest. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who is shown in the video face down and handcuffed, died during the encounter.
“The axis was to seize on the momentum from the overwhelming outpouring last year for justice for George Floyd and use it to call for convicting the cops involved in Floyd’s murder while elevating local fights of families impacted by cop violence,” Brian Taylor told World-Outlook in a March 20 interview. Taylor is part of Mass Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB) nationally and an organizer of the Cincinnati Anti-Police Brutality Coalition.
Members of more than 80 impacted families across the country working with MAAPB and other
local or statewide groups had called a national day of action March 6 centered on “impacted families and family-organized events,” Taylor said.
Protests took place in more than 16 U.S. cities between March 4 and March 8. They included rallies, marches, and online events. They spanned such diverse cities as Albany, NY; Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; Dayton, OH; Las Vegas, NV; Minneapolis, MN; New York City; Olympia and Seattle, WA; Safford, AZ; and St. Louis, MO.
“Inspired by the success of this series of actions that were organized quickly, impacted families and their supporters have called two other national days of action,” Taylor said. The first, in late April, is not connected to any particular anniversary or specific case with the explicit purpose of drawing attention to a maximum number of local fights demanding that police who murder in every city be held accountable. “Justice for all!” has increasingly become a rallying cry of this movement, Taylor noted. The second date will be the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s killing, on May 25.
Among the first actions held this month was a March 4 live Facebook video event that turned a spotlight on the stories and demands of 17 families who have lost loved ones to police violence in Washington State. World-Outlook published the video and a summary of that meeting (https://world-outlook.com/2021/03/10/washington-state-families-speak-out-against-police-brutality-demand-justice-for-all/(opens in a new tab).
Below are brief reports from several subsequent actions that took place between March 6 and 8.
Protesters gathered at Terrence Coleman Park in Boston’s South End for a March 6 rally to demand “Justice for George Floyd! Justice 4 all!” said a statement by MAAPB, which organized the action. “As we build pressure to convict in the trial, local families in every city will seize the moment to highlight their own battles, including demanding their cases be reopened and police be prosecuted.”
The protests that erupted in the wake of Floyd’s death “caused the government to make some concessions with several prosecutions and investigations that revealed deeply rooted racism in departments from coast to coast,” the statement said. However, it continued, “justice — in the form of cop convictions — has mostly been denied for thousands of families of victims and survivors of police brutality and murder.”
Rally organizers called attention to local cases of police brutality and racism. These included the death of Terrence Coleman, a 31-year-old South End man fatally shot by Boston police in 2016. Hope Coleman, Terrence’s mother, spoke at the rally. She explained that her family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Boston for her son’s death.
The rally also put a spotlight on the death of Juston Root, a 41-year-old Mattapan man fatally shot by cops from several police agencies in Feb. 2020. Root had long battled mental illness. The Norfolk County district attorney cleared the officers in the shooting in March of last year. Police claimed they found two paint-ball guns and a BB gun near Root’s body. But in a wrongful death lawsuit filed last August, Root’s family cited body camera footage they say shows officers charging and killing an injured, unarmed man while he was on the ground, struggling to breathe.
“The news shows us time and time again: Lives lost at the hands of police while unarmed are disregarded and excused. It’s unacceptable, and it can happen to anyone,” Root’s sister, Jennifer Root Bannon, told the Boston Globe.
“It happened to my brother, Juston Root, and it happened to other families here in Boston and across Massachusetts. The time for action is now. What if it was your loved one?” Bannon said. “Transparency and accountability cannot wait.”
According to Brock Satter, one of the rally organizers, other speakers included Annemarie Grant, whose brother, Thomas Purdy, was killed by officers of the Reno, Nevada, police department in Oct. 2015. Grant, who resides in the Boston area, is a national advocate for families impacted by police violence.
Carla Sheffield, the mother of Burrell Ramsey-White who was killed by the Boston police department in 2012, also spoke.
Dayton, Ohio, rally
About 200 people rallied at the Courthouse Square in Dayton, Ohio, March 6, said Brian Taylor. The protest was called by Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality and other groups. “In the past many of the protests in Ohio have been concentrated in Cincinnati and Columbus,” Taylor said. “The idea was to go to Dayton this time and give impacted families there a chance to highlight their struggles for justice, in addition to calling for conviction in the George Floyd case.”
The main rally speakers and their loved ones lost to police violence were listed in the the flyer advertising the event (see image below).
Sabrina Jordan is a founder of Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality. Her son, Jamarco McShann, was killed by police in Moraine in 2017. Jordan said she appreciated the support of those who attended, adding that more is needed across the state.
Those at the rally were also asked to sign and help circulate petitions for a potential Ohio constitutional amendment. Community organizer Cynthia Brown with the Heartbeat Movement said the proposed “Civil Action for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights Amendment” would better hold police accountable.
Karla Carey, also with Ohio Families Unite Against Police Brutality, told the Dayton Daily News that the rally helped spotlight the fights of families from Dayton who have lost loved ones and have not been getting the publicity that Cleveland and Columbus families have received.
“Afterwards, the families organized a dinner for themselves and their closest supporters,” Taylor said. “They felt it was one of the strong points of the day, giving them a chance to relax and talk about what comes next in their long struggle for justice.”
Arizona mother fights for justice for daughter who died in police custody
On March 7, Deborah Sanchez, whose daughter, Jorden Simms, died while in police custody on Dec. 28, 2019, gave a videotaped interview[i] to Brian Taylor and Brock Satter of Mass Action Against Police Brutality. The video was then shared on Facebook.
Jorden Simms spent Christmas behind bars, after being arrested at a Walmart in Safford, Arizona, on an old Yavapai County warrant on charges of alleged car theft and drug possession.
On Dec. 23, she was taken to a hospital by Safford police officer Jeremiah French for an exam to determine if she was pregnant. Police records show French spent 15-30 minutes in Simms’ room alone with her, without his body camera being turned on. Simms later accused French of sexual assault in that hospital room.
Late on Dec. 23, Simms was taken to Lori’s Place, an advocacy center in Sierra Vista, for a sexual assault exam. The following day, French was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, according to police records.
Upon returning to the jail from her exam early on Dec. 24, Simms said she was sodomized by a detention officer, later identified in police records as Kianna Bays. Bays was assigned to a different post the next night and resigned from the sheriff’s office in Feb. 2020.
On her way to a hospital in Safford soon after her second exam, officials say Simms quietly got out of handcuffs, a belly chain, ankle restraints and a seat belt to jump from a sheriff’s office vehicle. She died from injuries resulting from her fall. Police claimed she used shower gel to slip out of her restraints.
“I don’t believe a word that they’re saying,” Deborah Sanchez said. “I know with everything in me, my daughter didn’t jump. She had 30 days clean and worked so hard,” she added, referring to a drug rehabilitation program Simms was enrolled in prior to her arrest.
“I believe that she was beat up and I go off of this from what I’ve seen on my daughter’s body when I arrived at the hospital,” Sanchez stated. “I believe she was pushed out of that vehicle,” she added. “I feel like they did like a body dump, trying to make sure Jorden — she ratted out a cop and they were going to make sure she kept quiet about it.”
Simms’ cause of death was determined by the medical examiner’s office to be “blunt impacts to head, trunk and extremities,” according to an article published in the Aug. 2, 2020, Arizona Republic. Her manner of death was deemed undetermined. According to the autopsy report, Simms had 45 injuries, including fractures to her skull, clavicle and ribs, and brain injuries. The rape kit test results for Simms were inconclusive despite male DNA being present, according to an examination report from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
In her first steps toward justice in March 2020, Sanchez’s attorneys David J. Catanese and Benjamin Taylor served a $5 million notice of claim on Graham County stating it is liable for Simms’ death. Taylor told the Arizona Republic they are awaiting a response from Graham County and, if they don’t receive one, may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
“I can’t let them get away with murder, that’s how I feel,” said Sanchez.
She urged those interested in helping her fight for justice to look here for more information: https://www.justice4jorden.org
1,000 march in Minneapolis as murder trial of cop opens
According to the Minneapolis StarTribune, the city’s main daily, about 1,000 people marched on March 8 and gathered outside a heavily fortified Hennepin County Government Center, where the murder trial of Derek Chauvin opened that day, with the beginning of jury selection. Chauvin is now charged with third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.
Outside the courthouse, protesters chanted: “No more killer cops!” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the people!” They held banners reading: “The world is watching,” and “Justice for stolen lives.”
Protesters there expressed hope that a jury will find the video of Floyd’s death so convincing that Chauvin will be convicted. They also voiced skepticism because, historically, convictions of police officers are rare.
“We’re often doomed to repeat ourselves,” Bethany Gilmer, 32, told the StarTribune. “But hopefully this time something can change.”
Outside the courthouse, Floyd’s youngest sister, Bridgett Floyd, told reporters how emotional it had been to sit in the courtroom, face-to-face with Chauvin.
“My family and I are glad the wait is finally over and the day is here,” said Floyd, visiting from North Carolina. “I’m hoping that justice prevails and we can all use this as an opportunity to be better and do better for those around us.”
Four days later, the city of Minneapolis reached a $27 million civil settlement with the Floyd family. The Minneapolis City Council approved unanimously the settlement, which stemmed from a federal civil rights suit filed last July against the city and four former police officers over Floyd’s fatal arrest.
The suit also stated that the four former officers who participated in Floyd’s arrest — Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — violated Floyd’s Fourth Amendment rights with the “use of unjustified, excessive, illegal and deadly force.” All four have since been fired from the police department and are facing criminal charges.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump led the legal team in the Floyd family’s civil rights lawsuit. Crump told National Public Radio (NPR) that such settlements are important but do little to deter the police from ongoing brutality. He noted that 130 Black people have been killed by the police since Floyd’s murder. The main way justice could be served would be holding the guilty cops accountable.
“The only thing George Floyd could get is accountability, Breonna can only get accountability, you know, Ahmaud Arbery can only get accountability,” Crump told NPR, referring to other well-known cases of police brutality. “Because the reality is, justice would be them still here with us living.”
Olympia, Washington, protest
In Olympia, Washington’s state capital, members of six families impacted by police violence spoke out on the Capitol grounds March 8 as part of the National Day of Action to demand: #Justice4GeorgeFloyd , #Justice4All
Sonia Joseph, mother of Giovonn Joseph-McDade, organized the event and spoke as did Fred and Annalesa Thomas, parents of Leonard Thomas; Po Lepai, cousin of Iosia Faletogo; Marilyn Covarrubias, mother of Daniel Covarrubias; Jason Fuhr, father of Shaun Fuhr; Ian Fuhr, uncle of Shaun Fuhr; and Castill Hightower, sister of Herbert Hightower Jr. Katrina Johnson, cousin of Charleena Lyles sent a written message of solidarity. Other members of impacted families also joined the action.
Joseph also spoke on behalf of Malik Williams who lost his life to Federal Way, WA, police. She demanded charges be filed against the cops for both Giovonn and Malik’s deaths, as well as those responsible for the murder of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma. Speaking of all families impacted by police violence, she said, “We are better together. Justice for Floyd. Justice for all.”
Fred Thomas demanded the reopening of every homicide case where police have used deadly force. The cops believe, “You are the enemy,” he told the crowd. This is why they want more weapons, including “armed helicopters and armed drones,” he said.
Castill Hightower explained that one of the “weapons” her brother was accused of having was a butter knife. “We’ve been grieving for 16 years, but we are here now!” she said of her family. We are “fractured but not broken,” she added, as she said aloud the names of many victims of police murder in the state.
Marilyn Covarrubias explained Daniel was unarmed when he was shot. The cops alleged a cell phone in his hand was a gun. The cops could shoot anyone and make the same false claim, she said. “We have to protect our children” and now “our grandchildren” from more police murders.
Po Lepai shared the story of his cousin Iosia who, like his father, had been a Seattle City Light worker for many years. He was shot in the back of the head while on the ground with his hands outstretched where the cops could see them. “The Seattle Police Officers Guild” and others “want us to drop this case,” said Lepai. But the family will not do that. “To our family he mattered.”
Jason and Ian Fuhr both spoke about Shaun’s murder by Seattle Police in April 2020. Although passage of Proposition 940 in the state in 2018 made investigations of such killings mandatory, Jason said no investigation of any kind has been conducted for almost a year. “I didn’t realize how many victims there were until I lost my son,” Jason explained. Shaun bled to death after a blast to the face from an AR15. Shaun was holding his baby daughter in his arms when he was shot.