By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM

Families of slain loved ones attend 10.10.15 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

For decades, an unenviable association of families has been fighting for justice for their loved ones killed either by police, vigilantes, or in other senseless gun violence.   But when the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan addressed their suffering by calling for Justice Or Else, a movement comprised of a war on two fronts, their sentiment was finally, someone’s truly heard their cries.

“No one else has been coming to our aid, and we’re so thirsty.   It’s like being thirsty for a drink of water. We’re so thirsty for justice, and finally, when Justice or Else came, it was like getting that drink of water,” said Deanna Joseph of Tampa, Fla.

Families paid tribute by holding signs with images of their loved ones. Photo: Andrea Muhammad

Her son Andrew Joseph, III., was killed last Feb. 7, after he was hit by a car while trying to cross a busy interstate.   He’d been ejected by police from the Florida State Fair under questionable circumstances, but his death could have been prevented, his parents say.

She said Min. Farrakhan’s message was profound, detailed, clear, and one that called the Black community to consciousness.

“It has not been ever explained to a community of people in the way that he did explain it to us, knowing the whole dynamics of the political arena and understanding that the design is that of compromise, compromising at any stake, at any cost,” Ms. Joseph stated.

“We are in a state of emergency, and if, by chance, your eyes were closed to the immediate dangers and the problems, then you need to wake up. It’s become so crucial that we all get involved in the discussion, the planning, in the processing,” she urged.

Ms. Joseph shared she was in awe of Min. Farrakhan’s message.   She and her husband, Andrew, were jolted to the reality that despite all they’ve been doing to effect justice, they need to be more conscious, more proactive and not just accept the status quo, she told The Final Call.

Families of the slain

As Reverend Jamal Bryant, pastor and founder of Empowerment Temple, asked rally attendees to welcome the families of loved ones killed in aggressive violence by aggressive, militarized police forces, men, women and children marched onto the U.S. Capitol steps on Oct. 10 and in front of the speaker’s podium, many with their fists in the air.

They wore red garments, t-shirts and caps, some or all of their gear displaying photographs of their sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

A central and important theme of the Justice Or Else gathering focused on families still grieving but fighting for justice for their loved ones killed by police, while in police custody or by gunfire. Photo: Toure Muhammad

“Peace and love,” said Michael Brown, Sr., father of Michael Brown, Jr., who was slain by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. “The families just want to thank everyone for all the support.   We just want to thank Farrakhan for inviting us here, and we gotta begin to start showing love between each other,” he said, before he let out a sigh.

“That’s the only way we can get strong between all this,” he stated, before introducing Anthony Shahid, the originator of the slogan “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”   He too thanked Min. Farrakhan for calling 10-10-15.

Sharon Cooper, Sandra Bland’s sister, spoke for their mother Geneva Reed-Veal and family.   “The biggest message I want to leave you all with is the world has shown us that we have to control our own narrative.   I want to say thank you to those who are here, especially the Nation, for acknowledging us,” she said.   She concluded her brief remarks by asking everyone to say Sandra’s name.  

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, who was slain by vigilante George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., said the unjust killings are about human rights, not civil rights.

“This is about us knowing that we are not three-fifths of a human, that we have feelings and we have families too, and that we will not continue to stand by and not say anything anymore, that we will speak up and speak out, that God is watching what’s going on,” she said.

To the families that stood before her, she encouraged, “Don’t hold your head down as if your child’s life has been lost in vain.   Hold your head up high.   Your child was not the person that shot and killed someone else.   Your child was murdered.   That person’s mother needs to hold their head down because they birthed a murderer.”

She continued, “Stand up for who you are.   Stand up for what is happening and continue to speak out.   God bless you all!”

Sharlene Stewart’s son, Nicholas Walton, was gunned down on Feb. 4, 2014 while waiting for a cab in his community by God knows whom, she said because his murder is still unsolved.   He was shot twice in the chest–once in the heart, she said.

Police don’t know if the shooter was on foot or driving.   A sensor camera across the street captured him waiting for the cab and by the time it came back on, Nicholas was already on the ground, she said.  

No one’s been arrested, and the family doesn’t know if it was a case of mistaken identity, robbery, or a drive-by.

She echoed sentiments applauding Min. Farrakhan for including street violence in his clarion call for an end to violence.

“This is something that has been plaguing the community so much.   We came down for the march on Friday, and on Thursday evening, another 21-year-old was shot and killed in the community, so it’s like an ongoing cycle,” Ms. Stewart said.

Oddly, she said, when NYPD officers killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray on March 9, 2013, she walked up and down the community and helped to lead protests over his death.   Nicholas was 18 at the time and she felt Kimani could have easily been her son.

“My son hung out with Kimani, and I walked with his mom and other community leaders and activists.’…Who would have known literally a year later my son would be gunned down also in the same community,” she reflected.

“I’m just glad that Farrakhan touched the subject and just broadened it, not just the police brutality and police killings.   Like, we are literally killing ourselves.   The children, they’re scared of cops, and now it’s like they’re scared of each other,” Ms. Stewart told The Final Call.

She said Blacks are in a no-win situation, especially with community killings superseding police killings.   Still, she’s hopeful and has received a lot to take back home with her from the rally.

“Basically, it’s the love that was there,” Ms. Stewart said, as she began to cry.   “There’s so much love.   There’s so much love in the community, but what most people see is just the violence,” she said.

Black lives have no value

As several mothers of slain children from Texas, Georgia, Florida, and New York spoke with The Final Call the morning after Min. Farrakhan’s riveting guidance and warning that America nor her judicial system would or could ever administer justice to them, the news flashed across their hotel lobby’s TV screen.  

Authors of three reports compiled for Timothy McGinty, Cuyahoga County prosecutor, concluded Officer Timothy Loehmann’s fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland on Nov. 22 was reasonable and justified.

Several mothers’ faces swelled with tears.   They were devastated. They immediately began to re-mourn for Samaria Rice, young Tamir’s mom. They phoned her to say they were praying for her.

“It’s a sad day in hell in America when you can wake up and see that a child’s life was taken and then to see that it’s ruled justifiable, and sit in here with Deanna Joseph, mother of a 14-year-old.   I have a 20-year-old.   That’s still my child. I mean Ms. Jackie (Johnson, mother of Kendrick Johnson killed and stuffed in a gym mat in school gym in Atlanta), I mean all of us, they are our children,” argued Ms. Kemp.  

Her son, George Kemp, Jr., was killed in youth violence in Houston.

“I just have to say, well g–d–-!   No value!   It is no different than being picked up and sold on an auction block and put in a paddy wagon … and hauled away from your family while your mother sat back and watched you and screamed and never saw you again.   Nothing has changed,” she emphasized.

One thing that really struck Ms. Kemp about the Minister’s message was his instruction to eradicate fear, she shared.   “I have none. … My filter is gone,” she said.

Ms. Kemp, who became suicidal after her son’s death, said without a doubt God pulled her through.   She doesn’t care about celebrity or any other status, only about justice and helping other families to heal, she said.

“It’s either yes or no with me, and if you can’t help me, help somebody else, then move around, sit down and don’t come back,” she said.

She told The Final Call she also wonders, like Min. Farrakhan, what will people do when they go back home.

“Now that you’ve heard the word, will you go back and do something different?   I know I will, because I know coming here, and having my child’s picture and being with my sisters, millions of others that have never known George Kemp will know George Kemp now,” she added.

Because of the senseless violence, the world is being deprived of a kind, humble young man, who enjoyed reaching out to mentally ill youth and helping to experience real world activities, said his father, George Kemp, Sr.

Michelle Grant came to D.C. for Justice or Else to lift up her son Gabriel Jackson.   He was shot 12 times in the back in Fort Valley, Ga.   According to reports, he’d allegedly responded to domestic violence.    

Ms. Grant said she waited almost two years to find out his death was ruled justifiable.

“I just feel like each time you watch TV, we’re just, we’re just getting s–t on all over again, and then it’s like we just gotta wallow in it.   It’s sad,” a tearful Ms. Grant lamented.

“Black on Black, police brutality, it doesn’t matter.   We all lost a child.   It’s gotta stop,” she said.

A holistic approach to justice

Families of the slain are advocating for a true, reliable, and holistic approach to justice, but that begs the question, true and reliable for whom, said Ms. Joseph on their behalf.

“Is it reliable for some and not for others?   Well, that’s not true and that is not reliable, because you can’t count on that,” she said.

The ever-grieving families said they’re looking forward to #BoycottChristmas, starting with Black Friday, because it will be very impactful.   It presents a vehicle for them to be heard in the mainstream without violence.

Love Not Blood Campaign

The families were welcomed into the city with a reception hosted by the Love Not Blood Campaign at the office of the American Federation of Teachers on Oct. 9.

Founded by Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson (uncle of Oscar Grant, III, killed by a former BART officer in Oakland, Ca.) and his wife, Beatrice X, the campaign works to end police terrorism, mass incarceration, and community violence.   Their key priority is also to provide support and resources to families that have suffered traumatic experiences of gun violence.

“This was absolutely for the families, because how you stand, I’m still trying to figure it out,” Beatrice X said.   They thanked sponsors Pat Ford, former executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Bill Prichert, international communications director for the American Federation of Teachers, and George Gresham, executive director of the SEIU.

As they ate, drank and fellowshipped, some mothers’ tears began to flow as a video presentation displayed slides of their loved ones in “Justice or Else” memes.

Student Min. Keith Muhammad and Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother and a reverend, blessed the gathering and families with a unity prayer.   There was also a Native American sacred prayer ceremony and a libation.

Artists performed a praise dance and youth sang and stepped affirmations from the rituals rooted in the Continent of Africa.

The families’ spirits were further lifted when R&B artist Usher wished them well through a live video/chat.   “Each and every person that is a part of what you guys are doing there is amazing, and I really, really love the approach of having the conversation by way of love,” he said.

He said he has empathy for the tragic experiences they’ve had to undergo and that’s part of why he’s chosen to use his platform to acknowledge and highlight what they’re doing.

Another highlight came when Mr. Brown and his family presented gifts, including an artist’s sketch of Kendrick Johnson, to his parents for his birthday, which was Oct. 10.

“I feel it was something that was supposed to happen.   Kendrick was being born the day the Million Man March started.   He would have been 20 years old tomorrow also, so it’s bitter sweet,” said his mother Jacqueline.

“I’m grateful for the donation, but it’s the love that we share, the unity being around all the families, that I truly know understand what I’m going through,” she continued.

“This was a real nice experience, to see a lot of people coming together.   That’s what we all have to do, come together and be as one instead of apart, because we’re going to get somewhere by being together,” said his father, Kenneth.