Revolution #210, August 29, 2010

Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony Celebrates the Lives of Those Killed by Police and the Struggle for Justice

This correspondence is from someone working with the Stolen Lives Project:

On July 18, I attended the 2010 Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony (SLIC), held by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, in New York City. These SLICs are held every year, and are an important part of building urgently needed resistance to this ongoing and immense crime of this system, the literal stealing of thousands of lives of a criminalized generation by the system's enforcers, the police. These ceremonies have always been solemn, enraging, and uplifting occasions. Family members speak the stories of how their loved ones, mainly young Black and Latino men, died at the hands of police terror, the subsequent cover-ups by the authorities, and the systematic demonization of those killed by the powers-that-be.


The Stolen Lives Project and the Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony

"We pledge that the life and humanity of these Stolen Lives will not be forgotten. We pledge that their highest hopes and aspirations will live on in us, and that we will seek justice for these and all the Stolen Lives. In this way we pledge that their memory will stay alive in us and will inspire us to fight for justice and a better world."—The Stolen Lives Pledge

The Stolen Lives Project was initiated by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. It collects and documents the names and stories of those killed by police from around the country. When the Project first published its initial findings in 1999 in the book Stolen Lives: Killed By Law Enforcement, it revealed and confirmed that the great majority of people killed by police were Black and Latino. The Project also learned that the vast majority of police murder victims were unarmed and not in commission of any crimes. The Project's work serves to make clear the systemic nature of police murder and brutality nationwide.

The Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony is part of the work done by the New York Committee of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. It is a way for family members who have lost loved ones because of police brutality and murder to honor the memories of their loved ones and the struggle for justice. The Ceremony brings humanity to the life and stories of those killed by law enforcement, and it is a platform for bringing family members together to build resistance to police brutality.

This year the SLIC included family members from the West Coast to the Midwest to the East Coast. There were cases that shocked and propelled tens of thousands into protest: the unprovoked police executions of Oscar Grant in California, Sean Bell in New York, and Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit. Through telephone and simultaneous webcast—along with the presence of family members who have been active in the anti-police brutality movement, and the families of more recent police murder victims—all this came together at this Stolen Lives event.

In her opening remarks, Juanita Young (whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by the NYPD in 2000) said, "Things like this [SLIC] provide the strength for the families to come out. Like in the Stolen Lives book, we try to document so many cases. And most of these cases are of people killed by law enforcement—unarmed. Yet, this system still protects these cops. What would it take to get answers of why these cops are being allowed to kill our loved ones [and] our children?"

Nicholas Heyward, whose son Nicholas Jr. was killed by NYC housing police at age 14, expressed his frustration at how after more than 10 years in the anti-police brutality movement, so many people—especially youth—continue to be killed by law enforcement.

Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and co-founder of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, said, "Look, they are killing our children, and then they tell us it's justifiable homicide. They act in wanton disregard of the humanity of Black people, of Latino people, and poor people of any nationality. And they do that for a reason. Because that terror keeps us down. That is their role as enforcers for this setup. And that's a big part—but not the only reason—but a big part of why I'm a revolutionary. And you need to be one too!"

Rev. Omar Wilks, of Brooklyn's Unison Pentecostal Church, called for a national demonstration on September 25 in Washington, D.C. to highlight—at the doorstep of the Obama administration—the killing of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Speaking via cell phone, Mertilla Jones, Aiyana's grandmother, said, "Aiyana wasn't an accidental killing. She was murdered by Detroit police. And I watched this." Minister Omar spoke of people's moral obligation to resist this outrage and build a collective effort to stand, organize, and mobilize against the murder. The call for the September 25 demo was enthusiastically received by family members and audience members.

Carl Dix brought up the case of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man executed by a police officer on New Year's Day 2009 in front of horrified riders of the Bay Area's rapid transit system. He spoke of how the system changed the venue for the trial of the killer cop from Oakland to Los Angeles because of the outrage among people in the Bay Area. They empaneled a jury without any Black people on it, but seated several jurors who were relatives of cops. The prosecution basically "forgot how to prosecute"—despite the fact that the killing was caught on video and broadcast worldwide, the cop received a slap on the wrist, convicted only of involuntary manslaughter.

Wanda Johnson, Oscar's mother, spoke by phone and said, "What has happened to Oscar Grant has happened to Sean Bell and so many others who have lost their lives for no reason… We must come together as one to eliminate the injustices that occur to our brown men and our Black men."

Supporting families on hand to greet families of those more recently killed by police included Juanita Young, Nicholas Heyward, Allene Person (mother of Timur Person, killed by the NYPD), Carolyn Battle (mother of Ronald Battle, killed by the NYPD), and Mary Weaver (mother of Randy Weaver, killed by East Orange, NJ police). They stood in solidarity with the new family members, including Jennifer Gonzalez (representing Kenny Lazo, killed by Suffolk County, NY police) and Tawanna Graham (whose son, Jahqui Graham, was killed by East Orange, NJ police). Valerie Bell, Sean Bell's mother, was also on hand with her daughter and, together with the other Stolen Lives families, affirmed their continued fight for justice.

Ralph Poynter, husband of imprisoned people's attorney Lynne Stewart, also joined the Induction Ceremony. He spoke to rousing applause of Stewart's commitment to the families of Stolen Lives and to the struggle of oppressed people. Many artists also joined the ceremony, and their contributions brought new depth through their cultural presentations of music, poetry and spoken word.

This year's Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony was a solemn occasion, but it also concentrated expressions of resistance that are much needed. And people grappled with what it would take to truly eliminate this system's police brutality and terror. The program ended with Nicholas Heyward leading the audience in reciting the Stolen Lives Pledge.

Murder of Jahqui Graham

Jahqui Graham's mother, Tawanna Graham, told the harrowing tale at the Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony of how the police arrested Jahqui in front of her own eyes. A few days later he was found naked and beaten to death in a cell at the police station. Police claimed drugs were the cause of death, but the toxicology report showed no drugs were present in the body. When Tawanna Graham went to identify the body, she barely recognized her son because his body was so bruised and battered—including two front teeth embedded into the roof of his mouth. Two months later she was visited by police who claimed her son was being sought for a crime committed that same month! Jahqui Graham had already died brutally in police custody over two months earlier.

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