News Analysis

‘Justice for All Stolen Lives!’

April 24 Actions Demand Prosecution of Guilty Cops


By Argiris Malapanis and Geoff Mirelowitz

April 30, 2021—The following is a partial but representative round-up of protests against police brutality and racism that took place in a number of U.S. cities on April 24. They were initiated by Mass Action Against Police Brutality in Boston and others and were largely led by members of families that have lost loved ones to police violence. Demands included prosecuting and jailing the guilty cops and re-opening all cases of police misconduct where justice has been denied. Similar actions will occur on May 25, the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.

The political significance of these protests is amplified every week by new cases of police terror. Two of these recent incidents—the killings of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, and of Andrew Johnson Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, both African Americansare highlighted at the end of this article.


ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA

“The reason we are all meeting here today is because we wanted to wrap this week up,” said Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. She was speaking at an April 24 rally in front of the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“As you all know, we had the verdict of George Floyd, of Derek Chauvin murder,” Garraway said. She was referring to the April 20 conviction by a Minneapolis jury of former police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, the 46-year-old African-American, whose brutal suffocation to death triggered mass protests world-wide last year.

“We also had Daunte Wright’s funeral,” Garraway added. Wright, a 20-year-old African American who was killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Porter during an April 11 routine traffic stop, was buried two days after Chauvin’s conviction.

The goal of the organizers of the April 24 protest was to amplify the stories that authorities “want strategically to cover up, that they want strategically to sweep under the rug,” Garraway emphasized. “Because our loved ones’ lives is no more than George Floyd’s, and George Floyd’s life is no more than our loved ones’ lives,” she said.

“Every single life that they have stolen from us unjustly at the hands of this corrupted system deserves support, deserves acknowledgment. The mothers deserve this,” she added.

“So the reason for today is to say justice for all stolen lives!” Garraway said to loud applause from the approximately 100 protesters. “We will continue to fight in solidarity. We will continue to fight together as families for the truth and the justice for all of our families.”

Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, speaks at April 24, 2021, protest outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, MN. (Photo: Screenshot from Facebook video)

Garraway herself lost her son’s father, and her partner, Justin Tiegen, to terror by St. Paul police in 2009. Tiegen, an African American, was 24 at the time.

Other impacted family members who participated or spoke at the rally included:

  • Amity Dimock, mother of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old African American with autism who was killed by Brooklyn Center police in August 2019;
  • Kimberly Handy-Jones, mother of Cordale Handy, an African American who was shot dead by St. Paul police in 2017;
  • Gabriel Eaglefeather, brother of Paul Castaway, a 35-year-old Native American suffering from schizophrenia who was gunned down by Denver, Colorado, cops in 2015;
  • Matilda Smith, mother of Jaffort Smith, a 33-year-old African American killed by St. Paul police in 2016;
  • Marilyn Hill, mother of Demetrius Hill, a 23-year-old African American killed by St. Paul police in 1997;
  • Donnie Williams, grandfather in law of Brian Quiñones-Rosario, a 31-year-old hip-hop artist killed by police in Richfield, MN, in 2019;
  • Taren Vang, girlfriend of 36-year-old Travis Jordan, who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2018 during a mental health crisis;
  • Bayle Adod Gelle, father of Dolal Idd, a 23-year-old Somali American killed by Minneapolis police on Dec, 31, 2020;
  • Tybetha Prosper, mother of Naajikhan Adonis Powell, a 23-year-old African American who suffered from mental illness, was arrested on a probation violation, and died in Hennepin County jail in Sept. 2020;
  • Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American gunned down by Oakland, California, transit police in 2009, and whose killing is depicted in the film Fruitvale Station; and
  • Deborah Watts, cousin of Emmett Till, the 15-year-old Black boy brutally murdered by racists in Mississippi in 1955 and whose case helped ignite the civil rights movement.

“And another reason why we standing out here today [is] because this man, Gov. Tim Walz, comes out to Daunte’s funeral, speaks at his funeral, and these other politicians come up and speak,” Garraway said, pointing to the Minnesota governor’s mansion behind the rally platform. “They don’t even deserve to be around that boy’s casket.”

In addition to Walz, Garaway was referring to Minnesota State Attorney General Keith Ellison, U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose U.S. congressional district includes Brooklyn Center.

Many of the families that have lost loved ones to police violence were angry at pretentious statements these politicians made at Daunte Wright’s funeral, Brian Taylor told World-Outlook in an April 28 interview. Taylor, an organizer of the Cincinnati Anti-Police Brutality Coalition, attended Wright’s funeral.

“Klobuchar was Hennepin County prosecutor from 1999 until 2007,” Taylor pointed out. “During her tenure, there were 122 well-documented cases of police misconduct, 29 of which resulted in civilian deaths. Yet, Klobuchar refused to prosecute a single one. She has done nothing for victims of police brutality, but now she speaks at Daunte’s funeral shedding crocodile tears.”

Wright’s funeral “was politically hijacked by these politicians and other high-profile figures such as Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who made promises while in Minnesota last week to ‘help anyone fighting police brutality.’ But when some of the families did just that, they were snubbed or had their requests for legal representation rejected,” Taylor said.

“Ihan Omar,” Taylor noted, “who many had hoped would shed light on the true nature of the fight in Minneaopolis and the closed doors impacted families have met, did not mention any of the non-limelight families in Minnesota, many of whom were present at the funeral. Instead,” he lamented, “Omar closed her remarks at the funeral by giving Daunte’s family her condolences and this gift: an American flag.

“In my opinion,” Taylor added, “these politicians are peddling the Democratic Party agenda of pushing people to rely on reformist legislation and trying to get them off the street.”

“These are the same people that we have been begging for changes,” Garraway said at the April 24 rally, referring to the same politicians. “But when it’s a high-profile case, when the media is watching, they want to act like they’ve been doing something when all they’ve been doing is give us lip service,” she added.

If they had listened to “the families that they tried to sweep under the rug, there would not be a George Floyd, there would not be a Daunte Wright. You wouldn’t have to be at Daunte’s funeral if you had listened to the cries of the families that were already out here fighting,” Garraway continued.

That’s why, she concluded, “Our families had to be the ones out here to wrap up this week. And that is why we are standing out here today in solidarity as the families that lost our loved ones and they thought they were gonna cover it up. But we refuse to let that happen.”


CINCINNATI, OHIO

About 100 people gathered at the New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn, Cincinnati, on April 24, for a rally called by the Cincinnati Anti-Police Brutality Coalition. The group is fighting to reopen cases of people who have been killed or victimized by the police, Brian Taylor, an organizer of the event, told World-Outlook.

Speakers included:

  • Anternitia O’Neal, the mother of Dontez O’Neal, a 19-year-old African American who was shot and killed by Cincinnati police in 2012;
  • Audrey DuBose, mother of Sam DuBose, a 43-year-old African American man and a rapper, who was fatally shot in 2015 by then University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing; the officer was tried twice for Dubose’s murder, and both proceedings ended in mistrials;
  • Robyn Scott, mother of Melvin Murray Jr., another Black youth who died in 2016 after crashing during a chase by Cincinnati police; and
  • Taylor Pennington, wife of William Pennington, an African American whose family and friends say he was wrongly convicted on a murder charge when he was 17 and has been serving a life sentence for more than a decade.
Anternitia O’Neal, mother of Dontez O’Neal, comforts Dontez’s son, Donmirr O’Neal, 8, while speaking during April 24, 2021, rally organized by Cincinnati Anti-Police Brutality Coalition at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn, Cincinnati. Dontez O’Neal was shot and killed by Cincinnati police in 2012. (Photo: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer)

“It was pouring rain, but it was an inspiring event,” Taylor said. “It was matching the mood of the entire nation. Many people feel that now is the time to push for justice, regardless of whatever the politicians are talking about. There’s an opportunity to strike now, while it’s being exposed how police departments lie, how evidence gets hidden or covered up, and how the so-called experts get sloppy in handling cases.”


RENTON, WASHINGTON

On April 24, a car caravan of families who have lost loved ones to police violence was invited to lead a demonstration organized by the Renton Anti-racism Coalition (RAC). It took place in Renton, Washington, about 12 miles south of Seattle. For more than three miles in the rain, a spirited march followed the caravan. The protest ended in a rally addressed by seven members of impacted families, and others, who all spoke out against racism and for justice for all. The names of those lost to police brutality rang out during the march as did the chant, “Prosecute the police!”

Sara Lacy, wife of Cecil Lacy Jr., a Tulalip tribal member who died while struggling with police in 2015 during a mental health crisis, addressed the rally. Sara Lacy’s family has won reinstatement of a wrongful death civil suit that had been dismissed, alleging that officers used excessive force on her husband when they held him down even as he told them he couldn’t breathe, resulting in his death. Lacy is also fighting to reopen the criminal case against those cops.

Other impacted family members who addressed the rally included:

  • Sonia Joseph, mother of Giovonn Joseph McDade, a 20-year-old Black college student shot by the police during a traffic stop in 2017;
  • Frank Gittens, father of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, a 17-year-old Black teen killed by police in 2017;
  • Maria Giron, aunt of Oscar Perez Giron, a 23-year-old gunned down by Seattle police in 2014;
  • Elaine Simons foster mom of Jesse Sarey, a 26-year-old first generation Cambodian-American killed by Auburn police in 2019 during a mental health episode;
  • Marilyn Covarrubias, mother of Daniel Covarrubias, a 37-year-old Native American killed by Lakewood police in 2015; and
  • Castill Hightower, sister of Herbert Hightower Jr., an African-American killed by cops in 2004 during a mental health crisis.
From top left, clockwise: Trenise Williams of the Renton Anti-racism Coalition (RAC) is leading chants at the April 24, 2021, march in Renton, Washington, near Seattle. Sara Lacy (left), wife of Cecil Lacy Jr., a Native American killed by police in 2015, during the same protest. Castill Hightower, sister of Herbert Hightower Jr., an African American killed by the cops in 2004, takes part in car caravan that led the April 24 march and rally. (Photos: Lisa Ahlberg)

RAC had planned the demonstration under the banner, #Stand4JusticeProtest. The group’s initial demands were: “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop Asian Hate,” and “Defend Trans Youth.”  RAC then welcomed the participation of families fighting cop violence. The organization offered these families the chance to lead the demonstration with banners about their loved ones and to speak first at the rally. Those who joined the action responded warmly to the speeches by each family member. Another group of fighters is now more aware of these ongoing fights for justice.


SPOKANE, WASHINGTON

The same day, JD Leighty, Debbie Novak and others led a protest by Mass Action Against Police Brutality in Spokane, Washington. Leighty told the story of his friend Craig Johnson’s murder at the hands of Bonnor County, Idaho, deputies in 2017. Johnson had been Leighty’s best man at his wedding and an uncle to Leighty’s children.

JD Leighty (right), leads a Mass Action Against Police Brutality rally at Riverfront Park in Spokane, Washington, as Anwar Peace and Debbie Novak listen on April 24, 2021. (Photo: Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Novak’s son, David, was murdered by Spokane police in January 2019. “I want my son back,” she told those gathered. “My daughter wants her brother back. My mother wants her grandson back. What do we think can happen? What do we really want? We want change. We want police officers to be accountable.”

_______________

Other cities where Mass Action Against Police Brutality chapters organized similar actions on April 24 included Boston and New York City.

On April 28, Bethlehem for Social Justice held a rally in Delmar, New York, a suburb of the state capital, Albany, on the theme of “Flowers for Daunte Wright.” About 50 protesters demanded prosecution of the cop who murdered Wright and other victims of police violence.

Memorial for Daunte Wright at April 28, 2021, Bethlehem for Social Justice rally in Delmar, New York. (Photo: Argiris Malapanis)

Meanwhile, killings by police acting as judge, jury, and executioner go on unabated. Below are reports on two recent cases that continue to fuel anger and demands for justice.

_______________

Columbus, Ohio

On April 20, the day Derek Chauvin was convicted for George Floyd’s murder, Ma’Khia Bryant was gunned down by a Columbus, Ohio, cop. Bryant, a 16-year-old African-American girl was involved in an altercation outside the foster home where she was living when police officer Nicholas Reardon arrived and shot her.

Ma’Khia Bryant’s family is demanding a federal investigation into her death as well as into her placement in the foster care system. Family attorney Michelle Martin made the demands at an April 27 news conference alongside Ma’Khia’s biological parents, siblings, and other relatives. Martin said Ma’Khia’s life had been “cut short by many of our failing systems,” including the Columbus Division of Police and Ohio’s child services agencies. “We are going to investigate every agency that had the time and the opportunity to prevent Ma’Khia’s death,” she said.

The call for a federal probe comes a day after Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther asked the Justice Department to conduct its own review of Columbus police and recommend potential reform measures.


Elizabeth City, North Carolina

On April 21, Andrew Brown Jr. was killed by a team of cops in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The city has a population of 18,000, in its majority Black. According to the New York Times, deputies from the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s office fired several times at Brown after arriving at his house to serve drug warrants. A private autopsy paid for by his family found Brown had been shot five times. The fatal bullet was to the back of his head.

Brown’s family and attorneys have demanded that video of the police assault be released. On April 28, a North Carolina judge ruled against immediate release of the police body-camera footage, agreeing with a prosecutor to delay public dissemination for at least 30 days. Judge Jeff Foster denied the release altogether to media outlets, claiming that “they did not have legal standing to request the videos,” according to the televised footage of the court ruling. Foster did rule the authorities must show the cops’ body camera footage to Brown’s adult son, Khalil Ferebee, and his immediate family “within one degree of kinship, plus one lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of North Carolina.” However, Foster gave local authorities 10 days to do so.

Members of the Brown family have seen a 20-second portion of the police video. “It’s just messed up how this happened,” said Khalil Ferebee, Brown’s son, according to the Times. “He got executed. It ain’t right. It ain’t right at all.”

The Times reported further that the FBI announced it is opening a civil rights investigation into the April 21 shooting. North Carolina governor Roy Cooper called for a special prosecutor to take over the case that currently rests with the local district attorney.

Demonstrators march April 26 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to demand justice for Andrew Brown killed by police on April 21. (Photo: Carlos Bernate / New York Times)

Sofia Shank, reporting from Minneapolis, and Brian Taylor, reporting from Cincinnati, contributed to this coverage.

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