The Police Execution of Tyisha Miller
Revolutionary Worker #989, January 10, 1999
Nineteen-year-old Tyisha Miller was out for an evening with friends when she got a flat tire. She called for help, and waited in the locked car, with a gun near her for protection. Her family arrived, and were extremely worried when they couldn't wake her. They called 911 for emergency help. Four cop cars came. And within minutes the cops had opened a wild barrage of 27 shots at Tyisha, hitting her at least 12 times. A coroner later said that at least three of the shots could have been fatal--two of the four bullets that entered Tyisha's head and one of the bullets that hit her in the chest.
Outrage has erupted wherever people have heard the news. Black people, in particular, are saying "Look what it has come to! We can't even call 911 to get emergency help for a young woman, without having the cops just come and blow her away."
"You call for help, and they send assassins," said Bernell Butler, a friend of Tyisha's family.
Four cops at the scene have been placed on administrative leave (which means "paid vacation while they get their story together"). For days the press coverage claimed that the cops had shot in self defense when Tyisha opened fire on them--later, in the small print of follow-up articles, it was admitted that there was no evidence that Tyisha had threatened the cops in any way.
The evening she was killed, Tyisha Miller went to the mall with friends. She dropped off two friends in Riverside, a city of 250,000 an hour's drive east of L.A. As she was heading for the home of a third friend, Tyisha's car got a flat tire. That friend, Bug, called Tyisha's family at 12:30 a.m., to say Tyisha had parked the car in a gas station with the doors locked.
An hour later, Tyisha's cousin, Anthonete Joiner, arrived. Tyisha was lying back on the seat with the engine still running. The heater and radio were on. She had a handgun in her lap.
Tyisha's appearance alarmed Anthonete. "When we got there, she was laying in her car shaking," Anthonete later said. Tyisha didn't respond when they tried to wake her up. At 1:50 a.m., they called 911. They said they were concerned that she was in some kind of medical crisis, and they mentioned the handgun.
No paramedics arrived. Instead, four carloads of cops pulled up. They ordered Anthonete and her friend away from the car. They went up to the locked car and started shouting orders at the unconscious woman: "Put your hands up! Get out of the car! Unlock the door!"
Anthonete begged the cops to wait for someone to bring a spare key. Instead, the cops grouped behind Tyisha's car, like a row of executioners. One cop broke the driver's side window with a billyclub. Seconds later, the shooting started, as Anthonete Joiner watched in horror. Reporters who came to the scene saw dozens of little markers showing where shells had fallen from the cops' 40-caliber semi-autos.
The next day, a front-page headline in the local paper read, "Police defend officers' actions." It repeated the first police version of events--that Tyisha reached for a gun and the cops then shot her in self defense. Anthonete rejects this police story: "Tyisha never moved. She was reclined on her seat."
The next day, the police department admitted, "We cannot confirm she fired the handgun." But they announced they were taking Tyisha's car apart looking for a shell casing to prove she had shot first.
The killer cops were not arrested. And a whole operation was organized to calm the Black community. The police chief gathered up a hand-picked group of Black "community leaders" to mobilize them in the effort. No one from Tyisha's community of Rubidoux was invited. One spokesman for the local Urban League appeared on national TV to argue that it was important to look at the incident from the police point of view.
A man from Tyisha's neighborhood told the RW, "They're not looking to solve the problem. They're just looking to shut everybody up for the moment. Give them a couple of dollars, and think they're going to shut the family up, and everybody else is going to go. It's not the money issue."
Riverside was founded as a mission city by Spanish monks who came to convert and enslave the Native peoples. Along Mission Boulevard, there are street lights shaped like little mission bells. As you drive down off the bluff and cross the river, the trees disappear and you find yourself in a dusty lowland, marked by rocky hills reminding you that Southern California is a desert.
That dusty lowland is Rubidoux, an unincorporated suburb. One of the people there told the RW that it's about 30 percent African American. Most of the other people are Latino.
If you talk to people in Rubidoux about the killing of Tyisha Miller, the word they use is "outrage." Tyisha's family has been vocal in demanding justice. They have had meetings and press conferences, and have been making further plans. Ron Butler, Tyisha's uncle, said, "She wasn't a criminal. She was a young girl with a flat tire and she fell asleep." He added to the RW, "She was executed. That was worse than a firing squad."
A few blocks away, a group of Black and Latino men were relaxing in their driveway. Derrick, a 29-year-old, talked about the police. "The problem's been here since I been remembering. The same problem's been here. When I was little, the police beat this guy down and killed him right here in the middle of the street." He and his friends said the Riverside cops always treat people from Rubidoux different. "You go over to the area where she got killed in and they read your license plate back and they got this residence to say you're from Rubidoux area, they're going to pull you over regardless and tell you to get out of their neighborhood." A young friend imitated the police: "'What you doing over here? You got no business over here. Go back to Rubidoux where you live.' "
Derrick went on, "You could go down the street and speed and see how they step out of the car and get the guns out for a speeding ticket: `Get out the car.' It could be anything. You could just be sitting out here or walking down the street. `Where the weapon at?' You know the routine. Everybody stereotyped."
As Derrick looked at the Stolen Lives book, an RW reporter asked him what message he wanted to send to readers of the RW. He didn't have to think long. "They basically know all the same as us because every other state they in, the same type of thing happens. You got the book to prove it. Every place you go it's gonna be the same thing. As long as they got the power and we don't got the power. The law's supposed to be for the people, not for the people trying to hold the people back."
Ronald Butler, Tyisha's uncle, said, "Now we gotta teach our kids not to call 911." An older friend of Derrick's echoed this: "We better off without those muthafuckas. They cause a lot of problems. No matter what you call them for, they're still going to look down on you."
A Black Rubidoux resident told the local media: "My lifetime philosophy is to avoid the police. To us, these guys are a public hazard. Maybe they are a help to everyone else, but not to us."
In the corner of the gas station at Brockton and Central is a small memorial: a pot of bright flowers, a couple bouquets, a scattering of single blossoms. Someone left a note to the family, "Cries will come, but smiles of remembrance will follow. Much sympathy to all of you in the loss of Tyisha."
"The people who loved her are hurt very much. They're devastated. Right now we just hurt so bad, especially hearing about how they shot her up so bad," Ron Butler told the RW.
Tyisha is from a close, extended family. Her mother, Delmer Miller told the local press, "She was a tomboy." She was known for always wearing baggy pants and flannel shirts. Her cousin Awngelica Mayo said, "She was a person you could talk to. I looked up to her when I was little." One of Tyisha's older cousins told a reporter, "She was the humor of the party. I'm going to miss her a great deal. She was a beautiful person." Keysha Williams added, "She was my girl."
Shawntay Mayo said, "The first star we saw was Tyisha. She was just a young girl trying to live her life." Rara Mayo said Tyisha told her Christmas Day, "Rara, I love my life."
The system stole that precious life in an execution-style murder.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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