By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LAS VEGAS–Families impacted by police violence, activists, mental health professionals, religious leaders and attorneys recently convened the 4th annual national Families United 4 Justice conference here.
Love filled the atmosphere as families embraced in the Circus Hotel lobby, where the conference was held. Some of the more than 175 families that registered were new and others have participated since the conference inception in 2014.
Wearing t-shirts adorned with images of loved ones killed by police, the families exchanged warm greetings, sometimes without uttering a word.
Whether their cases were high profile with national exposure or barely known, the families came together under the theme, “The Cost of Injustice,” and shared strategies and pitfalls in their fights for justice.
“We want the people to hold these officers accountable. At the end of the day, I believe there’s strength and power in numbers. … The streets are not safe with killer cops on our streets,” said Stevante Clark.
Sacramento Police Officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet killed Mr. Clark’s 22-year-old brother Stephon with eight shots, all from behind, in his grandparents’ backyard in March 2018. The officers fired 20 shots in all. Police said they were responding to a 911 call that someone was breaking into cars. The officers were never charged in the shooting.
Whether accountability means getting rid of a Black police chief, mayor, or district attorney, it’s time to mobilize, said the young activist. “Laws and legacy weekends and all those are good, murals and all that, but we want some damn justice,” Stevante Clark told The Final Call.
“My brother’s legacy means a lot more to me than anything, because I don’t have children. I don’t have a wife. Stephon was a Black Muslim in America with kids and a wife, you know what I mean. He got f—-d over,” he added.
Conference highlights included a health fair, workshops, videotaped words of encouragement from California Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Webber of San Diego, and a riveting discussion and Q&A. Panelists included Kristina Roth, senior program officer for Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty International USA; Dr. Melina Abdullah, professor of Pan African Studies at California State University-Los Angeles and Black Lives Matter L.A.; Samuel Sinyangwe, creator of MappingPoliceViolence.org; civil rights attorney John Burris and Nation of Islam Student Minister Abdul Sabur Muhammad, who is based in Oakland.Joined by Student Minister Duke Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 75 in Las Vegas, Student Min. Sabur delivered a special message on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
“Family let us now decide that our unity is far greater and more important than anything that divides us. We should play on our strengths,” said Min. Sabur Muhammad. “We should bring our strengths to the table. Leave our egos in the check room. Let’s start finding the best strategy for securing success for our people. This is what Minister Farrakhan desires of us: That we grow up; that we mature; that we plan; and that we execute or plans as our united force.”
“Your stories, as raw as they were at times, pierced the hearts of so many,” said Dr. Webber. “Those kinds of things really changed the minds of many and helped them to understand that this could also happen to their families, that this sounded like one of their cousins, or nephews, and members of their families,” she told participants at the gathering.
“The conference impacted me in such a way, because I just kept experiencing God’s majesty and when you step out on faith,” said Beatrice X, co-founder of the Oakland-based Love Not Blood Campaign and California Families United 4 Justice. The conference was held Sept. 26-28.
“The synergy that comes from families when they get in that room together, the laughing, loving and hugging, they know they’re not alone in their fight against state-sponsored murder,” she said.
She and her husband, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson, founded the Love Not Blood Campaign on July 14, 2014, to bring families together to fight for social justice across the country.
Uncle Bobby joined the movement for police accountability and reform after former Bay Area Rapid Transit District officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot his nephew Oscar Grant, III, on a station platform on New Year’s Day 2009.
“I personally think the conference turned out extremely well, and what makes me know that is the response we got from the families that came and are continuing,” said Uncle Bobby. Thanks from families are pouring in, he added.
“Families are consistently saying they learned a lot and they’re taking these tools back home to enhance their communities’ pursuits for justice,” continued Uncle Bobby. The organizers and participants are looking forward to a 2020 conference in Washington, D.C.
Spirits were high Friday morning Sept. 27 at the Doolittle Community Center, where families gathered for prayer, an African ancestral libation ceremony by Akubundu Amazu, Indigenous spirituals, praise dance, and spoken word.
Conference goers enjoyed lunch and for many, a rare chance to have fun during a karaoke hour. Families sang and danced along to their favorite tunes. Later, tears and emotions poured out as new families who have lost loved ones to police violence shared their experiences.
During a “Circle of Remembrance” ceremony, conference participants gathered in a large circle and called out the names of their lost loved ones while holding banners, posters and photos of the deceased. Black psychologists shared breathing and meditation exercises as part of tools to cope with loss. There were also prayers and chants.
As families recited the names of their departed loved ones, a man who happened to be at the park for his son’s birthday climbed atop a fence and began to call out the names of his loved ones slain by police.
“It’s amazing how God works,” he said through tears.
Ja’Nay X Jenkins contributed to this report.