“I lost more than a boyfriend that day. I lost the love of my life and the father of my 7-month-old son,” said Tafara Williams from her hospital bed during a news conference.
Despite a summer of protests and calls for police reform, Black people continue to die from police encounters across the United States. The latest incidents include the shooting of a young couple, 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette and Tafara Williams in Waukegan, Illinois, the death of 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown in Washington, D.C., resulting from a police chase, and the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia. Protests have once again ignited, and anger and frustration continue.
‘He kept shooting’
On October 20, Tafara had put her two children to bed and went to sit outside in the driver’s seat of her car to smoke. Marcellis was sitting in the passenger seat when an officer pulled up behind the car with no lights or sirens on.
“He got out of the police car, and so I rolled down all the windows and turned on all the lights inside the car so the officer could see I had no weapons and I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” she said via video from her hospital bed.
The officer identified himself and then he started harassing Marcellis, she explained.
“He stood near the car with his left hand on his gun, and he said to Marcellis, ‘I know you from jail.’ I asked the officer if we were free to leave. I asked him if we were under arrest,” she said.
After the officer took a few steps away and got on his cellphone, Tafara drove away slowly because she was scared to get out of the car. She turned onto a road, where she saw another officer waiting for them. She lost control of the car as the officer started shooting, and the car slammed into a building. “I kept screaming, ‘I don’t have a gun,’ but he kept shooting,” she said.
The officer then told her to get out of the car. She had her hands up, but she couldn’t move because she had been shot.
“Marcellis had his hands up. I kept asking him why he was shooting. Marcellis kept shaking. More officers came and were pointing their guns at us. My blood was gushing out of my body. The officers started yelling, they wouldn‘t give us an ambulance until we got out the car. When I moved, blood seemed to pour out of my body on the floor of the car, on the ground, everywhere,” she said. “I can hear Marcellis still breathing. I told them please don’t shoot. I have a baby. We have a baby. We don’t wanna die,” she continued.
“An officer dragged me away from Marcellis. I begged them to take him first, because he had just got surgery not too long ago. They ignored me. They laid Marcellis on the ground and covered him up with a blanket while he was still breathing,” she continued. “He was still breathing, and they took him away … and allowed him to die.”
Waukegan Police Department Commander Edgar Navarro told reporters that an officer approached a “suspicious” vehicle, and as he was conducting his investigation, the vehicle took off and was spotted by another officer.
“That officer exited his vehicle, and the vehicle that he was investigating began to reverse towards the officer. The officer then pulled out his duty weapon and fired into the vehicle,” Commander Navarro said.
The officer has been terminated for “multiple policy and procedure violations,” and the investigation is ongoing. Waukegan, Ill. is 35 miles from Chicago and about 15 miles South of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back multiple times by police and paralyzed in August.
Unrest in D.C.
Karon Hylton-Brown, a 20-year-old Black man in Washington D.C., was killed in a moped accident. According to a statement by police, on Oct. 23 officers “activated their emergency lights and attempted to make a traffic stop” after they saw the young, Black man riding without a helmet. When the moped exited an alley, it collided with a passenger vehicle.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters that the young man was being followed despite policies against chasing. “We have very clear policies about no chasing. It should be obvious by now. Why? Because chases can be dangerous,” she said.
The four officers involved were placed on leave. The family blames the police for Mr. Hylton-Brown’s death. According to a police spokesperson, during a protest, six officers were injured, and six police vehicles were damaged. Protesters also started fires and damaged storefront windows.
“The things that happened didn’t have to happen. You know, he was targeted. All this—we wouldn’t have to be out here. You know, if the guy would’ve just left my son alone, all this wouldn’t have happened,” said Karen Hylton, the young man’s mother.
Anger and outrage ignited
Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man in Philadelphia who suffered from bipolar disorder, was shot and killed by police while holding a knife on Oct. 26. A family attorney said he was a mental health patient. In the bodycam footage, one officer can be heard telling another officer to “shoot him.” Walter’s mother witnessed the shooting. The city saw multiple nights of protests.
Carolyn J. Ruff, a Black Lives Matter activist in Chicago, said justice has to be served, because police are killing intelligent Black family men who have partners and children.
“Look at what happened in Philadelphia,” she said, referring to Walter Wallace. “They’re trying to say that this young man in Philadelphia had a knife. He was shot in front of his family, and they tried to tell the police don’t shoot him. He’s mentally ill. Please don’t shoot him. But they shot him anyway. They shot Marcellis anyway, when Tafara was pleading, ‘please don’t shoot him. We have a 7-month-old baby. Please.’”
Ms. Ruff said she’s angry at seeing incidents every week.
“I’m very angry, because every week, or it could be every day but mostly every week you hear these KKK cops shooting our Black women and men for no reason,” she said.
Protests sparked in all three cities, and local leaders asked protesters to stay calm. The Biden-Harris and Trump campaigns commented on the shooting and subsequent unrest in Philadelphia.
“Our hearts are broken for the family of Walter Wallace Jr., and for all those suffering the emotional weight of learning about another Black life in America lost. We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death. It makes the shock and grief and violence of yesterday’s shooting that much more painful, especially for a community that has already endured so much trauma. Walter Wallace’s life, like too many others, was a Black life that mattered—to his mother, to his family, to his community, to all of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif), expressed in a statement.
“At the same time, no amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence. Attacking police officers and vandalizing small businesses, which are already struggling during a pandemic, does not bend the moral arc of the universe closer to justice. It hurts our fellow citizens. Looting is not a protest, it is a crime. It draws attention away from the real tragedy of a life cut short,” the statement continued. “As a nation, we are strong enough to both meet the challenges of real police reform, including implementing a national use of force standard, and to maintain peace and security in our communities. That must be our American mission. That is how we will deliver real justice,” the Democratic candidates continued. The duo then pointed fingers at President Trump stating all the commander-in-chief does is “fan the flames of division in our society.”
“He is incapable of doing the real work to bring people together. We will. We are all praying for the entire Wallace family, and for our nation, that we may move toward healing,” the statement said.
White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah said President Trump is prepared to order federal intervention in Philadelphia because of the rioting.
“President Trump will not tolerate any violence directed at America’s law enforcement,” she told Fox News. “This president has made clear before whether it was in Seattle or Portland or others were prepared to deploy federal law enforcement as necessary.” Mr. Trump called the Philadelphia protests “terrible” and again as he has previously done, resorted to his “law and order” rhetoric and blamed the city’s mayor, a Democrat.
“It’s a terrible thing, what I’m witnessing is terrible, and frankly that the mayor or whoever it is that’s allowing people to riot and loot and not stop them is also just a horrible thing. I saw the event, everybody did—it was on television, it was a terrible event, I guess that’s being looked at very strongly.”
Attorney Barbara Arnwine, president of Transformative Justice Coalition, attributed the rise in police incidents to officers fearing greater accountability. “I think that they have been more cruel and more extreme in their behavior, more abusive, as a result of their fear that there may be a new administration that will impose stricter standards of conduct of all police,” she said.
She said police abuse signifies how embedded racism is in American policing and how much American policing has relied on brutality against Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans.
“It’s also a testament that policing in America still cannot escape its origins from being created as slave patrols for the purposes of racial control and that the goal of racial control has been prominent in all of American policing since the inception of American policing,” she told The Final Call.
She listed several things that need to happen to help curb police brutality. One, she said, people need to vote for progressive prosecutors, good judges, and good sheriffs. She also said people need to start paying attention to their mayor, city council and county commissioners, because they “often have a lot of say in selecting the chief of police.” Another thing she said needs to happen is communities need to organize to be present during collective bargaining for police contracts.
“Everything about whether or not a police officer has to give a statement after he shoots somebody, whether or not a police officer has to give up their firearms and be on desk or be suspended, all of that is set forth in the police contract,” she said. “And people don’t understand that, but the police contract, the collective bargaining contract is everything.”
Furthermore, she said there needs to be strong community oversight of police.
“I didn’t say police review boards. I said really strong community oversight, meaning that the community has a serious say about standards of policing, has a serious say about standards around use of excessive force, racial profiling, a whole lot of areas,” added Atty. Arnwine.
She said the Black community needs to fight for policies that reallocate funding away from excessive policing and that more money needs to go into mental health, drug addiction and schools.
“I think that it’s so tragic to see all these killings of so many beautiful young people and so many people of all ages, all genders. It’s disturbing to watch how many Black bodies are laid into the ground because of excessive policing and because of the excessive use of force,”she said.
“It’s time for a serious overhaul, and I think that everybody should see themselves when they vote as an active champion for police reform. We should not sit back. And voting can’t be the only answer. We also have to really be engaged on a much more routine basis, monitoring and holding police accountable.”
Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham, the city’s first Black mayor, made an emotional plea for people to wait for the facts to come out in the shootings of Marcellis and Tafara. Rev. Al Sharpton, Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump and others, attended an Oct. 27 prayer vigil for Marcellis Stinnette. Ms. Ruff attended the vigil where several leaders urged the community to not be violent.
“They were asking people not to loot, not to burn, not to do this. Give them a chance to finish their investigation, but how long do you want to investigate something like this?” she questioned.
“Why are you pleading with them when you don’t plead with these KKK cops, or you’re not doing anything to change the law? Why are you pleading with the Black community when we’re the ones that are being lynched? That’s the word I’m going to use. We’re the ones who are being lynched. Why don’t you go in their community and ask them why they are shooting us. Don’t come in our community. I’m talking about these elected officials telling us what not to do,” said Ms. Ruff.
She said police need to be abolished and defunded, and the money needs to go back to the Black community.
“They’re trying to get rid of us, but they don’t realize we’re the strongest people on earth. They can’t get rid of us. But we have to come together and unify and show them they cannot get rid of us and start boycotting. Don’t support their businesses. Support Black-owned businesses. Hit them in their pocket,” she said.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam told the Black community to boycott and to “buy Black” leading up to 2015 massive gathering themed “Justice or Else,” in Washington, D.C.
“Dr. King said, ‘We don’t have to go around talking bad, throwing Molotov cocktails,’” the Minister pointed out in a previous address. “No. We don’t have to do that. And the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, ‘You don’t even have to fire a shot,’” Min. Farrakhan said on a national conference call telling Black people to “redistribute the pain” and boycott Christmas and holiday spending.
“The ‘shot’ that we are going to fire is the cannon of our unified action—not to bother anybody, just to keep our money in our pockets.”