Chicago Stolen Lives Dinner:

Families Tell Their Stories of Heartbreak, Outrage, and the Fight for Justice

April 1, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a student who is part of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, Chicago chapter:

It is difficult to describe the general mood inside the basement of Wicker Park Lutheran Church on Saturday, March 21, at the dinner to honor the Stolen Lives families and raise funds for April 14. Some moments were somber, some were jovial; some numbing, and some electrifying. How could you not be affected? Not when you stand in the presence of no less than six families, all of whom had endured having their loved ones savagely ripped away from them in the prime of their youth; none of whom had seen any justice done for it. The emotional gravity of their combined presence was crushing, despite the obscene knowledge that they were merely a fractional representation of the total number of people who share their pain even within the city of Chicago, let alone the nation at large.

Stolen Lives
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As I sat on a church pew, I felt that first faint, familiar writhing sensation rising in my belly, beginning to gnaw its way to my chest: guilt, embarrassment… I nervously shuffled the stack of papers in front of me to obfuscate the cheat-sheet of attendees I had in my possession. I felt like I should know all the names, all the faces, all the stories, but I don’t. I can’t. How could I? There are so many. Even if my recollection rose to the challenge, my spirit could not. There’s only so much horror one can digest before the mind heaves and recoils into itself, abandoning the body in a dissociated, paralyzed stupor. Yet here they were, the people who lived those stories, and all poised, purposeful, lucid, steady, intact and strong…

As each one rose to the microphone, they struck a different chord, but each reverberated with the same moral clarity. Stop Mass Incarceration Network was awarding these people commendation for their efforts, their example, their bravery, but this was completely backwards. If anything, it was we who were receiving a great reward and honor in hearing their words. I wanted to believe I could help comfort these people in their grief, but by the time they were done, it was I who felt consoled by them.

Rekia Boyd

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Revin Fellows, the uncle of Rekia Boyd, spoke to the same frustration I was feeling that there are so many of these murders it seems impossible to keep track of them all, as he spoke about trying to garner media attention:

“This is the anniversary of the murder of Rekia Boyd; I want to thank the organization that came out for Rekia and her family. Rekia was killed at 15th & Albany in Lawndale; I was with her oldest sister when she got the call.” He said that at the time Rekia was killed, the Trayvon Martin case was making national news, and 800 people protested her murder, but it took a lot of effort by the family and community to get Rekia the national attention she deserved. He concluded, “I want to thank all the Black mothers for carrying the burden for Black males, for being strongvery strong; if it wasn’t for our Black mothers, we would be extinct. Thank you for all the work mothers have done.”

Ronnie Johnson

Dorothy Holmes, mother of Ronnie Johnson, was especially difficult to watch, as she is still in the very midst of her grief. Last October, the police ran him down while he fled through a park, unarmed, emptying their clips at his back for no particular reason, other than that when he saw police he felt himself possessed of a strong desire to move swiftly in the other direction. They later claimed they heard shots. They offered no proof. When Ronnie realized he couldn’t outrun their bullets, he spun around waving his empty arms to ask “Why are you shooting me?” Dorothy is still trying to raise money to mark his grave. I was reminded of a motto that was spoken among the soldiers in the ghettos and prison camps of the Third Reich, whenever someone questioned their actions: “HieristnichsWarum!”—Here, there is no Why.

Marcus Landrum

Wanda Taylor, the mother of Marcus Landrum, was unflappable, in spite of the hideous and perverse scrutiny that her family has endured. Her 18-year-old son hadn’t always been perfect. He became a father at 16 and hadn’t finished his diploma, though he was now in a GED program. Like any number of white teens I knew in the rural South, he was a teenage parent who didn’t always make the most responsible choices as he tried to cope with the pressure. But, unlike them, he’s dead now. He too was fleeing when he was killed. Wanda said it took her a long time to get her head right afterwards, though you never would have known it judging by the laser-sharp focus and energy with which she spoke: “I want you to know how important these organizations are to the people and families. I brought my boys today so they can network and be around people like me, for them to understand and think about the school-to-prison pipeline, it is a real phenomenon and I want them to understand they are targeted. You guys make that real and tangibleso thank you for receiving us. We are not going along with that evil institution that took away our children. They should have left me alone…”

Roshad McIntosh

A group of young men was being questioned by police when Roshad McIntosh decided to flee last August. Officers claim that Roshad already had a gun out and trained on them in a gangway before they even reached for their own sidearms, yet he never fired it and instead allowed them to draw their guns and shoot him dead which, to say the least, seems slightly peculiar. Instead, numerous witnesses in the community tell Roshad’s mother, Cynthia Lane, that after running into a gangway and realizing he had cornered himself, Roshad dropped to his knees and raised his arms in order to surrender to the pursuing officers when they caught up with him. Instead, they rounded the corner and immediately shot him three times in the chest. Cynthia spends most of her nights wondering why it happened and what will happen next, except for the two hours or so when she’s finally able to sleep. “I don’t know where I get the strength from…” she admits. That makes two of us.

Freddie Wilson

Another family that will never have the whole truth is that of Freddie Wilson. He had a record, but by all accounts had changed his life by the time he was in his 30s and was now a mentor for other at-risk youth. Somehow, a routine traffic stop escalated into four officers firing into his vehicle at once. In a familiar refrain, police say they “recovered a gun from the scene” while no other witnesses report seeing a gun and in fact many say that Freddie had his hands exposed outside the window of the car. That was eight years ago. Since then, his father, Freddie McGee, has become a tireless advocate and champion for other families like his, known lovingly as Godfather. His earnestness and eloquence are so potent in each word:

“First, okay, I thank you all for coming out to support us, I am Freddie’s father, Mr. McGee, I am a revolutionary. I want to say back in 2007 a friend of my son's had gotten murdered. My son was working at a T-shirt place airbrushing. I remember him telling me one day about his friend getting killedhe had made a T-shirt for his friend and it had to do with the police, of course, and he said the way things are going today, I might even get killed by the police. To mention that to yourself or to someone else and then have it happen to you.  Shot 18-20 times, you don’t even know you are dead. I never thought that this many people would be murdered by the Chicago police, I couldn’t imagine it, it never crossed my mind. It seemed like he was the only one.

“I have to say to the mothers, you mothers are very strong. Me, as a man, I am very weak when it comes to suffering, heartache and pain; never in my young days would I think I would cry. I was too macho to cry, but I found out that was a lie, I cry like anyone else, the pain from 2007. Your pain is more recent, 2007 seems so long ago, but I hurt just the same. This is a pain that not ever is going away, you know that, it doesn’t matter how much money you get, it is not going to bring back your loved one, that pain is going to be there forever. So I would like to say to the young men sitting here: You all have to be very careful, listen to your parents. Love one another because you never know if you will see one another again. I have more to say but I am more a singer than a talker, thank you for supporting us. Love to the brothers and sisters and god bless us all. Revolution!”

Darius Pinex

For many of these families, the pain does not end with the killing of their loved ones. Often they have to deal with pressure or intimidation when they try to speak out, but even more disgusting than that is the way that media and authorities seek to dredge up any and every mistake or indiscretion their dead children ever committed in life and use it as a pretext to justify their murder. We are told they deserved to die because they were hanging out with a bad crowd. We are told they deserved to die because they were selling loose cigarettes. We are told they deserved to die because they were jaywalking and were rude to a police officer. We are told they deserved to die because they got high. We are told they deserve to die because of the stigma of crimes they had already served a sentence for. We are told they deserve to die for things white, middle-class teens and young adults do every day without suffering lethal consequences, if they suffer any consequences at all.

But that, at least, is an added torment that they can no longer inflict upon Gloria Pinex. They tried, but it backfired, because now we know: the night Darius Pinex was shot to death at almost point-blank range, he wasn’t breaking any laws, he wasn’t loitering, he wasn’t “acting suspicious” or driving erratically, he wasn’t “in the wrong place at the wrong time”... he was in his own car minding his own business with one of his friends. When the police pulled him over because his car “matched a description,” he behaved in a perfectly calm and rational manner, presenting his license, registration, and his otherwise empty hands through the window. Police would later claim, yet again, that they found a gun under the seat. But we don’t get to see what happened at all, because the officers parked their SUV laterally in front of the car to cut it off, and point the dash camera in a different direction.

Once again, police tried to tell the same familiar story, but this time, something was different. During the trial the police were caught lying in courtevidence that they had successfully buried for four long years. The recordings, played in open court just a few weeks ago as the Pinex family sought a civil verdict in place of criminal accountability, showed that on the night Darius was killed, there had been no dispatch matching the make and model of his car, nor had there been any dispatches at any point that described Darius as armed and/or potentially dangerous. But that’s not allone of the officers who shot Darius killed Flint Farmer and shot another person within six months of Darius’s murder. Yet still, he remains free and continues to work for the city, and still, in some cruel mockery of all sense and decency, a jury found no fault. Gloria Pinex cried out in open court, demanding to know how they could find in favor of the people who had been demonstrably lying to their faces for weeks.

“It’s been really rough; I mean really rough, but the fight and struggle has been worth it for my son Darius because he did not deserve what he got, and he still doesn’t deserve it now. Even sitting in the courtroom and those jurors heard what I heard and heard the cop perjure himself on the stand like that and to let him get a pass on that, it was just hurtful. I tried to walk out of that courtroom with my head held high, knowing it’s got to get better, it can’t get no worse. To have another chance really made my dayit’s not over yetto know that they lied on my son. I thank everyone for backing me up and supporting me. I told them, I am not going anywhere, I’m still here. I want justice for everyone up here because we deserve it, none of our children deserved to die that night, none of them.”

On April 14 we must all raise our voices…

Statement from "Stolen Lives" families

How many more? How many more grieving families? How many more dead sons and fathers? How many more lies have been told and how much evidence buried in other cases that we will never know about? How many more excuses to justify these stolen lives? How much more does it take to get people to pay attention and demand justice? What else do these people have to do, and suffer through, for us to finally hear them?

And how do they do it? How do they remain so strong, so calm, so resolute, so committed to seeking truth and justice instead of revenge? How are they not reduced, daily, as I would be, to seething in hatred and thrashing wildly with unbridled rage in the face of a society and a government that tells them the lives of their loved ones are not worth preserving and the truth of their deaths is not worth finding?

I don’t know how they do it. I hope I never know. Whatever it is, it is a terrible knowledge and grim power that none should ever have to discover, in a just and civilized world. Can we ever bring about that world? That is the answer that we owe to them, each and every one of us. On April the 14th, we must all raise our voices loud enough for them to hear our reply. Join us in making them that promise.

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