Families gather to honor and remember loved ones lost to police violence

“A Night of Honor” was held at the Aloft Hotel in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, May 26. The night was hosted to “give thanks and tribute to the movement” from families who had a loved one killed by police.

The event was hosted by Toshira Garraway Allen, who founded Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence (FSFAPV). More than 10 families attended, including family members of George Floyd, Emmett Till, Philando Castile, and Daunte Wright.

“Families that have lost loved ones here in the state of Minnesota at the hands of law enforcement have been supported by many community members across the state and around the world,” Garraway Allen wrote in a Facebook post promoting the event. “Our families will take this opportunity to thank the movement and ALL of you that have stood with us and fault [sic] with all of our families tirelessly.”

Garraway Allen’s fiancé, Justin Teigen, died after being pulled over by St. Paul police in 2009. Garraway Allen said she felt a void inside until she met Sharice Burns, sister of Jamar Clark, and Leslie Redmond, who was head of the Minneapolis NAACP at the time.

Together, the three discussed starting a support group for family members of those slain by police, which led to Garraway Allen founding FSFAPV.

Garraway Allen spoke about how the Crime Victims Reparations Board (CVRB)—a Minnesota department that financially assists families who have lost loved ones to violence—will not assist families where a loved one was slain by police.

The CVRB did not immediately respond in time for publication, but in a follow-up email, Kevin Gutknecht, Minnesota Department of Public Safety interim director for the Office of Communications noted that the requirements for the reparations program “are the same for all applicants, including those injured or killed by a police officer.”

Gutknecht pointed to the requirement that “the person who was injured or killed must have been the victim of a crime—whether the officer was charged with a crime related to the injury or death does factor into whether this requirement is met.”

FSFAPV steps in to financially assist families not covered by CVRB. Garraway Allen says her organization has assisted families with everything from funeral costs to transportation costs and groceries. She also makes sure to organize events for families on birthdays and “angelversaries” (the anniversary of a loved one’s death), noting that these are “the hardest days” for families that have lost someone.

“I feel the most fulfilled I’ve felt in 12 years—since the night I lost Justin, the night he was pulled over,” Garraway Allen said. “I had emptiness inside of me and it still hurts to this day. But being able to come alongside these families and say encouragement and words that uplift their spirit and to be able to give them the support I didn’t have when Justin was taken from my son and family, I’m grateful to be something to other people that I didn’t have.“

Garraway Allen emphasized that she and FSFAPV are not anti-police, but are “anti-wrong being done to humans for any reason ever.” She sees the group’s main goals as fighting for equality and standing together.

“It’s a different ballgame when your family is stolen by police versus a civilian on the street,” Garraway Allen added. “You go through things you wouldn’t. Your loved one is slandered in the media. They kill your loved one first physically; they’re taken away. Then emotionally and mentally they slander [their] character, who they were as a human beings.

“The only thing we can do is keep their name alive because they’re not alive anymore,” Garraway Allen added.

Garraway Allen opened the event with a prayer and then called up all attendees who had a loved one killed by police. Katie Wright, the mother of Daunte Wright, was among the speakers.

“We’re gonna continue to fight and we’re always going to scream our loved ones’ names in order to gain that accountability for all of our families,” Wright said.

The event took place one day after the two-year observance of the murder of George Floyd. Several of Floyd’s aunts, uncles, and cousins attended the event, along with Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross.

Ross spoke on the “love and support” the families had given each other. “Two years ago, at 9 o’clock in the morning, my entire life changed,” Ross said. “I lost the love of my life; I lost a part of me that I will never get back, but what was gained in this group was from God.”

Johnathon McClellan, president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, came to the event to support the families who have lost loved ones and the other organizations he works with. McClellan believes the best way to prevent more families from having loved ones killed by police is through the legislature, noting that executive orders are not a permanent solution as they can be rewritten by a new administration.

McClellan noted that the bills that his organization was trying to pass had stalled out in the state Senate and that there had been “no progress” in months.

“You would think that the human rights report that came out that highlighted a lot of the issues that protesters, community activists, community leaders, were marching about, you would think that would have helped move the needle on some of this stuff. But the Senate has doubled down, the Republicans have doubled down on not moving any type of meaningful reform forward,” McClellan said.

“That’s what these families need, they need justice for their loved ones, but they also need to know that this ain’t gonna happen to someone else again because every time that it happens, it rips the scab off of what happened to them and their families,” McClellan added.

McClellan noted his organization and its allies closed out the 2022 legislative session without passing a single bill but says he is hopeful for the future.

“There’s been a lot of retirements that have come about so you have this older ideology, this rulebook that we’ve been playing by that’s leaving,” McClellan said. “And we have new blood coming in, and that new blood we hope understands what we’ve been saying.”

The night closed with a song and prayer.

Updated 6/10/2022 to correct the name Crime Victims Justice Unit to the Crime Victims Reparations Board and to add a response from Kevin Gutknecht of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.