by Charlene Muhammad
DETROIT—Many families impacted by police violence convened the first Families United 4 Justice (FU4J) gathering at St. Andrews Church at Wayne State University in Detroit. Wearing t-shirts and caps depicting images of their loved ones killed in the police, vigilante, and systematic violence, some 50 families traveled from cities including Houston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, Las Vegas, and Phoenix to attend the June 15-18 event. Their collective vision is to build a united nationwide movement of families affected by police violence and work at the forefront of the anti-police brutality movement. Kenneth Chamberlain, Jr., whose father, a 68-year-old retired Marine veteran and correction officer, was killed by police in White Plains, New York, opened in prayer. Akubundu Amazu of Oakland, Calif., poured libations during a traditional African ceremony honoring their ancestors. “This is organized for families, by families. This is for us, by us,” said Beatrice X, co-founder of the Love Not Blood Campaign. She applauded the families for making the journey for their loved ones. Her husband and gathering co-organizer, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson represented for his nephew, Oscar Grant, III., and families from the West Coast. After a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer killed his nephew on New Year’s Day 2009, he promised to work to develop a vehicle of support for families, so no one would have to ever experience what his sister Wanda, and their family endured again. “No one wants to be a part of this club, but when you become a part of it, it’s traumatizing. It’s crippling, and you just don’t know what to do, where to go for help, and this will be an opportunity for families to have some direction, from families that have already experienced it—not just from some clinical psychologist or some activist that’s been involved in the campaign, but from families that personally have been through it,” Mr. Johnson continued. Each participant was given a Families Affected by Police Violence Workbook to complete throughout the day. It represented the future toolkit that would be made available to individuals facing similar ordeals throughout the country. It was a collaborative effort between advocates Mr. Johnson, Yolanda McNair, Ms. Vanissa “Nissa” Chan, Karintha Tervalon, and Oja Vincent.
Ms. McNair, president of Protect Our Stolen Treasures (P.O.S.T.), attended in the name of her daughter Adaisha. According to Ms. McNair, she was shot by an off-duty police officer, at his home, while celebrating at a party the day before her 25th birthday. The case “was suspended, because the city went into bankruptcy, and then the prosecutor closed the case while it was suspended,” Ms. McNair told The Final Call. “I’m going to keep fighting for my daughter. There was no clean investigation done. They didn’t follow protocol, procedures, or policy when it came to the officer. They gave him preferential treatment. They put him on the desk for 2-1/2 months, and put him right back out on the street before they even finished the investigation that they were calling themselves conducting,” she continued. Ms. Chan, co-organizer of Families United, embraced families during her welcome address. She told them that the workbook and future toolkit they were helping to formulate by telling their stories, along with best practices, and skills to navigate the criminal justice system, is dedicated to Cynthia “Moses” Ruth Howell, the niece of a police violence victim, Alberta Spruill. She died of cardiac arrest on May 16, 2003, after 12 police officers broke down her door, threw a stun grenade at her, and handcuffed her. When they realized they had the wrong apartment, she was dead. “I’ve been supporting families for the last eight to 10 years, so this is something I care very much about in terms of advocacy. … I just believe that it’s my duty as a citizen to care for other human beings, and make other people aware that if we don’t talk about this, it’s just going to keep happening,” said Ms. Chan. Atty. Angel Harris of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and civil rights attorney Adante Pointer of Oakland gave the families guidance, which included information on how to change legal standards, the importance of having community members on jury pools, and how to ensure special prosecutors can cover their cases. Atty. Pointer encouraged families to take the lead and get to the scene, but also counter all of the bad things—true or not—that police and media may say about their loved ones. “As soon as they identify who was injured, killed, murdered by the police, as soon as that name comes out, the next thing that’s going to come out is any type of criminal record they have, whether or not they were intoxicated, whether or not they hung with somebody in fifth grade and did something bad, those are going to be the first things that come out,” Atty. Pointer said. The conference included workshops on issues on racial justice, community organizing, legal strategies, addressing shock, and how to deal with the media. Later, participants broke into healing sessions, which included yoga, and healing techniques, including Reiki, acupuncture, and massages. People wept in another session focused on community organizing as they told and heard stories of how police killings have and continue to impact them and their families. They pled for communities to stay with them after the initial incidents, through court appearances and other processes they called lonely. Hawa Bah shared that her son Mohamad, a college student, got sick in 2012. She called for an ambulance, but the police responded first. She said they knocked on the door; Mohamad answered, and told them they knocked on the wrong door, and to go away. “They told me don’t worry, we’ll take care of it,” she said. “They broke the door. Three people shot up my son,” she continued. Ms. Bah said she was so glad to meet the other families, and asked them to come and support her for an upcoming June 29 hearing. Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. was killed by police in his home after he inadvertently triggered the emergency alert pendant worn around his neck. He suffered from a pulmonary disease, his son, Kenneth, Jr. said. According to Mr. Chamberlain, Jr., his father told them he didn’t call them and closed the door, but for 93 minutes, they banged on the door and mocked his military service. “At one point he says, ‘I tell you I’m okay.’ You hear a police officer say, “I don’t give an f—k, n——r. Open the door.’ At that point, the people try to cancel the call,” he said. But the police refused, took the door off the hinges, knocked it down, and fired an electronic taser at his father. They shot him after hitting him with a bean bag shotgun three times, claiming he attacked an officer with a knife, he stated. There was no outrage from public officials, and no indictment, he said. “So, I’ve become a target, walking down the street,” he said, as he wept openly. Allen Kwabena Frimpong of Movement Net Lab, a consulting cooperative in Brooklyn and organizer with Black Lives Matter New York spearheaded the campaign to raise money to bring the families to Detroit. “What we’re able to create here with the $38,000 plus dollars that we were able to raise was the experience for families to be able to heal, connect with one other, build solutions and strategies around how they’reorganizing together, and building mutual aid and support for each other,” Mr. Frimpong said. Mothers with Protect Our Stolen Treasures welcomes families to Detroit. Several families with sketches of their loved ones during the Families United 4 Justice Network gathering in Detroit, June 15-18.