By Patrisse Cullors, reprinted from Huffington Post
Last weekend, we learned with further certainty what we have long known to be true: Black and brown families will not be granted justice by law enforcement.
New investigations into the murder of Tamir Rice concluded that the actions of the Cleveland police officer who killed him were “reasonable.” Authorities can justify police murdering a 12-year-old boy sitting on a swing in a park as being “reasonable” because police are praised for killing Black and brown people.
Last week, I traveled throughout California listening to the stories and trauma of family members who have lost loved ones to police violence.
Over eight days, the Caravan for Justice led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of California stopped in Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, Salinas, Fresno, Riverside, Orange County, and Los Angeles. In each city, family members of victims of police violence, in the U.S. and from the UK, shared their stories.
In Sacramento, there was Christina Arechiga, whose cousin Ernest Duenez Jr. was gunned down by police while exiting from the backseat of a truck. In Salinas, Angelica Garza shared the story of her brother Frank Alvarado Jr., killed by police who claimed to confuse his cell phone with a weapon. In Los Angeles during Politicon, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles member Misha Charlton shared how an officer responding to a domestic violence call killed her sister Meagan Hockaday.
Over and over, I witnessed families shouldering the burden of the violence their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and children suffered at the hands of law enforcement.
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, Research Action Design, and 20 other organizations across the country recently released a report, Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families, documenting the overwhelming debts, health challenges, and severed bonds that families face as a result of mass incarceration.
But I saw on this tour that those costs begin before people are even arrested–they begin when police first target a family member. And for black and brown communities, we live our lives as targets.
Family members described the many legal battles they have fought, the lawyers they have hired, the medical costs they have faced, all in the pursuit of justice for their loved ones.
But too often, these costly pursuits of justice end in frustration, disappointment, and more grief. We must equip families to take action and lead so that they no longer suffer these injustices.
As I write this, I am aware that 902 people have been killed by police this year. That 64 were black and unarmed. That in California, 155 have been killed and of those, 73 were black or brown victims. And there are many others who have not made it among the counted.
Black and brown families are in a state of emergency.
For most emergencies, we prepare communities. We teach people to put out fires, board up their homes, or drop under a desk if an earthquake hits. But what have we taught low-income communities of color about how to respond to the more frequent incidents of violence they face in the streets and inside of jails?
The Caravan for Justice marked the launch of Justice Teams in nine counties in California. Those teams will be local rapid response networks, building infrastructure to support victims and survivors of law enforcement violence and their families, teaching them how to prevent police brutality and how to respond effectively when it occurs.
One month ago, neighbors called the police when they heard my little brother, who was having a psychotic episode, yelling outside of my apartment. Aware of the many black people with histories of mental illness who are killed during police encounters, myself and five other witnesses recorded the police with the Mobile Justice CA app as they arrested my brother. The app allows people to record law enforcement abuses and automatically submits the videos to the ACLU of California for review.
More communities need to know these tools exist and how to use them. Because justice will come for families when we fight for ourselves.
Tamir Rice’s family has now demanded the appointment of a special prosecutor because of concerns that the grand jury presentation will be a “charade.” But justice for families won’t come only from a grand jury indictment, or an officer’s conviction.
Justice will come when we demand truth and reinvestment. An acknowledgement that people of color are brutalized, criminalized, and incarcerated because of hundreds of years of racist policies that have involved forced labor, segregation, disparate opportunity, and organized state violence against black and brown people.
It will come when we reinvest. We have poured billions of dollars into punishment-based responses–from police arresting children for absences in schools, to treating people’s drug problems in jails, to creating barriers to housing, employment, and education for formerly incarcerated people after they finish serving their sentences.
Families will receive justice when we end our addiction to policing and punishment, and resources are moved towards education, housing, healthcare, and employment for all communities.
Patrisse Cullors is one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter and the Truth and Reinvestment Campaign Director at the Ella Baker Center.