Last weekend a few hundred family members who have lost loved ones to police violence arrived in Washington, D.C. to lift their voices against what has become a longstanding scourge on the image of the U.S. as a just and lawful country. Using the Washington monument as a poignant backdrop, they raised several demands. These included “fire, prosecute, and jail killer cops and reopen all cases of police brutality, including those in which grand juries refused to indict the cops responsible.”
Officially titled “Families Impacted by Police Violence Washington, D.C. March and Rally,” the event was organized and planned by the families themselves and coordinated by Boston-based Mass Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB).
The event was one of a number of such events held the last several years to bring attention to the problem of police violence and demand that all cases of police violence be reopened and prosecuted. In 2018, MAAPB, along with the Twin Cities-based Take a Knee Nation, organized the Take a Knee conference during Super Bowl weekend in Minneapolis to bring attention to the issue and the need to continue the fight for justice.
MAAPB, national supporters, and Twin Cities families and activists organized the National Mothers March last July, which took place in the Twin Cities. It attracted a few hundred family members impacted by police violence.
Last August, MAAPB gathered with others to protest the murder of George Floyd and those killed by police in D.C. to demand that the cases be prosecuted and reopened.
Several Twin Citians made the trip to last weekend’s event, including members of the group Families Supporting Families Against Police. Its founder Toshira Garraway, whose fiancé Justin Tiegen was killed by St. Paul police, was among the participants.
Kidale Smith, the brother of Winston Smith, and Dolal Idd’s father Bayle Gelle were also in attendance. According to the events’ organizers as expressed on their website, “Impacted families and their supporters want immediate action from politicians and government officials with the power to enact or promote these measures. Every family deserves to see a conviction! Every family deserves to have their demands represented.”
Before the event a petition had been circulated nationally demanding the Department of Justice take action on these cases. Sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, Daily Kos, and Every Case Matters, the petition reads, “The Department of Justice must reopen every case of a death in police custody going back at least 15 years and conduct robust investigations. Every person, agency, and institution that has obstructed justice for people unjustly murdered must be held to account.”
The organizers also addressed the problem of individuals and groups using the deaths of people at the hands of police to raise funds that more often than not do not benefit the impacted families. “Every family deserves the resources (financial and otherwise) that have been misdirected and diverted to NON-impacted family-centered organizations, nonprofits and NON-justice seeking, government-launched programs over the past seven years,” they wrote.
Black people makeup approximately 13% of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of Whites. Latinos are also killed by police disproportionately at nearly twice the rate of Whites.
The event was militant, passionate, and solemn as family members and supporters gave speeches and relayed the narratives of how police felled their loved ones. Family members, activists, and supporters eventually marched from the Washington Monument to the Department of Justice (DOJ) holding signs and pictures of loved ones which they call “stolen lives” and chanting slogans.
“We’re under attack, what do we do?” asked the chant leader, the crowd responding, “stand up, fight back.” After arriving at the DOJ they held a spirited rally demanding the cases be reopened and guilty cops be prosecuted.
A few more speeches were given. Among the speakers and lending support to the impacted families was Twin Citian Deborah Watts, the cousin of Emmett Till.
“Whether it takes months, years, or half a century, don’t give up,” encouraged Watts. “We’ve been fighting for 66 years. I’m still with you,” Watts said. “We want truth, justice, and accountability for our loved ones. Your pain and your passion is powerful. Don’t ever let it die.”