Tonight, the Mothers of the Movement will leave no doubts about to which party black lives truly matter.
In a historic moment, the mothers of seven African-Americans who died at the hands of police, in police custody, or in extra-legal killings will address the Democratic convention tonight. Their own names may not be familiar, but the stories of how they lost their children, and the mournful journeys that brought each of them to the stage tonight commanded the nation’s attention, and launched a movement that shifted the national discourse.
There was little sympathy for black victims of police violence at the Republican convention last week. The overwhelmingly white audience heard a line-up of speakers that repeatedly mocked or ignored African-Americans’ frustration with police violence. There were few references to the growing list of black victims of police brutality.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was met with stony silence when he invoked Alton Sterling’s name, though his purpose wasn’t to condemn police violence and systemic racism that caused Sterling’s death, but to commend Sterling’s family for condemning the death of three police officers in Baton Rogue.
- Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke — who has called the Black Lives Matter movement as “Black Slime,” and called Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin, “goons,” “criminals,” and “co-conspirators in their own demise” — celebrated the acquittal of police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death, to loud applause from the audience.
- Donald Trump falsely claimed that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty rose by almost 50 percent since last year. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that there 17 percent fewer police officer fatalities under President Obama than there were under George W. Bush.
Tonight, on the stage of the Democratic National Convention, seven voices from outside the party’s power structure, seven mothers will tell the nation about the lives of their sons and daughters, and why their lives mattered.
Gwen Carr is the mother of Eric Garner, who died as a result of a chokehold administered by an NYPD officer. Garner, 43, had been previously arrested for selling untaxed, “loose” cigarettes. He had what is sometimes known as a “side hustle,” which is the closest thing to a job some black men in areas where minority male unemployment remains high and jobs are scarce, and who may be shut out of the job market because they have criminal records.
Garner had worked for the New York City as a horticulturist, but after the 2008 financial crisis, the city cut its payroll by 16,000 employee. Garner plied his trade just a few blocks from the economic violence that likely cost him his job, and provided him a steady supply of customers willing to pay a steep price to buy cigarettes one at a time, because they couldn’t afford a whole pack.
Garner had just broken up a fight, which brought police units to the scene, when police attempted to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo took Garner down using a chokehold. On video of the incident, Garner (who was asthmatic) can be heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” Other officer struggled to bring him to the sidewalk and put his arms behind his back. Garner died a few minutes later. Police officers waited seven minutes before giving him CPR. A grand jury later decided not to indict Pantaleo.
Sabrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin, a teenager killed by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Martin, 17, was visiting his father’s home in Sanford, Fla. On the last evening of his life, he went to a convenience store to purchase candy and juice.
Martin was a junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in north Miami-Dade. His favorite subject was math, though the previous year he’d taken an honors English class at Carol City High. Though he’d started having some trouble in school, including some suspensions, his English teacher described him as “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” According to his quadriplegic uncle, whom Martin sometimes assisted on trips to University of Miami basketball games, the teenager dreamed of becoming a pilot after taking airplane rides of couple of years earlier, and attended a Miami aviation school part-time.
On his way back to his father’s home, Martin walked through a neighborhood that had been hit with several robberies. He was spotted by George Zimmerman, who took it upon himself to serve as a one-man Neighborhood Watch. Zimmerman was armed, which goes against neighborhood watch guidelines. Upon seeing a young black male in a hoodie walking through his neighborhood, Zimmerman called 911 and reported “a real suspicious guy.”
Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman follows Martin in his truck, and then on foot. Martin, who was talking with a friend on his cell phone, became aware that Zimmerman was following him, began walking faster, and tried to alter his route to evade Zimmerman. At some point, Martin turns and confronts Zimmerman, asking “Why are you following me?” A scuffle ensued.
Zimmerman would later claim he fired in self-defense, as Martin was on top of him, slamming his head into the pavement. However, at least one eye witness said he saw the two on the ground and separated. Then the screaming, heard by several neighbors and recorded on their 911 calls, began. Zimmerman said he was screaming as Martin was on top of him, but Martin’s father, Tracy, said it sounded like his son. Three other witnesses said it was Martin they heard screaming for help.
A shot rang out, and Trayvon Martin lay dead. Police arrived within about 15 minutes of Zimmerman’s 911 call. Zimmerman was taken into custody and released, as police accepted his story at face value. Officers collected Martin’s body and belongings — including his cell phone — and deliver him to the medical examiners office, where he is held for at least 24 hours as a “John Doe.” Despite having his cell phone, police made no attempt to use it to identify Martin or contact his family. Martin’s family only learns his fate after calls to 911 being police to their door with a picture of him Tracy Martin identified his son, and then called to inform his mother, Sabrina Fulton.
Zimmerman was tried in Martin’s death, after the case received national attention. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law played a part in the case, as the jury was informed that under the law Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, and had a right to stand his ground and use deadly force if he believe it was necessary. Zimmerman was acquitted.
Maria Hamilton is the mother of Dontré Hamilton, who was killed by a Milwaukee police officer.
Hamilton, 31, had been living in transitional housing for the past four days, unable to live alone since being diagnosed with schizophrenia the previous year. Accustomed to falling asleep watching old movies, and unable to get his television to work, Hamilton checked into the Hampton Inn, in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., for the free movies, and spent the night there, after paying cash for the room.
The next morning, Hamilton walked a half-mile to Red Arrow Park, across from Milwaukee’s City Hall. He spent a lot of time in Milwaukee’s parks, either selling bottled water or walking just to clear his head. For some reason, he worried that someone would try to hurt him or his family. He called his mother, and spoke to her and his brothers, Nate and Dameion, who persuaded him go to his brother’s house.
Around 1:00pm, Starbuck’s baristas noticed Hamilton sleeping in the park and called the police emergency line. Two officers arrived on foot, spoke to Hamilton, and told the baristas he wasn’t doing anything wrong. When Hamilton didn’t leave, the officers returned, spoke to Hamilton, and again told the barista’s he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
At 3;30pm, officer Christopher Manney arrived, unaware that two officers had already spoken to Hamilton, asked Hamilton to stand, and began questioning him. Hamilton turned around and Manney began a pat-down frisk. When Hamilton, who was unarmed, began to resist, then an altercation began, in which Manney lost control his baton, and claimed Hamilton struck him with it, on the side of his neck. Manney then shot Hamilton 14 times.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm later announced that Manney would not be charged in Hamilton’s death.
Lucia McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by Larry Dunn at a Florida gas station, after Dunn objected to Davis’ loud music.
Davis, 17, and his friends — Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson and Tommie Stornes — pulled into a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station to buy rum and cigarettes. Davis, Thomas, and Brunson stayed in the car to listen to rap music, while Stornes went in to buy supplies. The teenagers were preparing for a night out after hanging out at a Jacksonville mall.
Until eighth grade, Davis lived with his mother, who sent him to a private Christian school and later homeschooled him after fourth grade. Upon entering eighth grade, he went to live with his father, because his parents felt he needed stronger discipline. By 11th grade, Davis’ grades picked up, and he became more popular at school. He joined the Air Force ROTC, and leaned towards a career in the military after being mentored by a cousin who was a Marine.
While Davis and his friend’s waited, 45-year-old Michael Dunn and his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer arrived at the gas station, after attending a wedding. As they pulled into the parking lot, Dunn complained to Rouer using a racially charged slur, “I hate that thug music.”
Dunn asked the teenagers to turn their music down. Thompson complied, but turned it back up when Davis objected, sparking an argument between him and Dunn. Davis pointed his finger at Dunn and said, “Fuck you!” According to witnesses, Dunn replied, “Are you talking to me? You are not going to talk to me like that.”
Dunn retrieved his gun from the glovebox, pointed it at where Davis was sitting, and started firing. Stornes, who had returned, put the vehicle in reverse and sped away as Dunn exited his car and continue firing. The teenager stopped in an adjacent parking lot to check on Davis before returning to the gas station to call for help.
When Rouer asked why Dunn had fired at the other car, Dunn said he feared for his life. “They threatened to kill me,” he said. No weapon was found in the teens’ vehicle, nor anywhere at or near the scene. Dunn and Rouer returned to their hotel room, and were unaware that anyone had died until they saw the news the next day.
At his first trial, a jury failed convicted Dunn for three counts of attempted murder, for which he received a 90-year sentence, but failed to reach a decision on Davis’ death. At his second trial for Davis’ murder Dunn was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole for Davis’ murder.
Lezley McSpadden is the mother of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson.
Brown 18, had just graduated from Normandy High school in St.Louis County, and had plans to attend college. Brown was walking in the street with friend Dorian Johnson, when officer Darren Wilson spotted them. Wilson later said that he stopped Brown and Johnson because they matched the description of suspects in a nearby robbery.
An altercation ensued, with Brown and Wilson struggling through the window. Wilson’s gun was fired, promoting Brown and Johnson to flee. Wilson fired several more shots, until Brown turned to face him and began moving toward him. Some witnesses said Brown had his hands raised in surrender when Wilson shot and killed him
The incident cause unrest in, Ferguson, which had long history of tension between the city’s majority black population, and its nearly all white police force. Community members were further outraged at prosecutor Bob McCullough’s unorthodox handling of the grand jury process, ultimately resulting in a decision not to indict Wilson.
Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley is the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teenage who was shot while in a park with friends.
Pendleton, 15, had preformed at President Obama’s inauguration with her high school band just one week before she died. She was an honors student at the elite Kings College prep school, a volleyball player, and a majorette in the marching band. She dreamed of going to Northwestern University, and talked about becoming a pharmacist, a journalist, or maybe a lawyer.
Pendleton was in a park, hanging out after school with friends Kyra Caldwell, Danetria Hutson, and Klyn Jones. They were taking shelter from the rain under a canopy, with a dozen or so other teenagers when man jumped a fence, ran the group and began firing. The area was a known gang hangout, and Police believed Pendleton and her friends were mistaken for a rival gang.
Geneva Reed-Veal is the mother of Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail, while being held for a traffic violation.
Bland, 28, an Illinois native, returned to Waller County, Texas, to accept a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A & M University. Bland attended Prairie View A & M as an undergraduate, where she played in a band, and volunteered for a senior citizens advocacy group.
Bland was stopped by State Trooper Brian Encinia, for failure to use her turn signal while changing lanes. Bland, who recorded her exchange with Encinia using her phone, said that she pulled over after she noticed Encinia’s cruiser following her. Dash cam footage shows that Encinia wrote out a traffic citation for Bland. After a brief exchange, he asks that she put out her cigarette. When Bland questions this, Encinia order Bland to get out of the car. Bland refuses, saying that she is not under arrest and not obliged to leave her car. Encinia then opens Bland’s car door, and tried to pull her out. He drew his taser and shouted, “I will light you up.”
Once out of her car, Encinia orders Bland to put down her cell phone and tells her she is going to prison. When Bland asks why, he moves her to the side of the road, where they are no longer visible, but heard arguing. A bystander video shows Bland on the ground, with a police officer standing over her. Bland complains that the officer slammed her head into the ground and she cannot hear. Another witness told local news that after Encinia forced Bland from her car, he “tossed her to the ground, knee to the neck.”
Officers took Bland to the Waller County Jail and placed her in a cell along, as a “high risk” to others. Three days later, Bland refused breakfast at 6:30am, but told a jailer “I’m fine,” half an hour later. An hour later Bland asked via intercom how to make a phone call. Police stated that Bland was found at 9:00am “in a semi-standing position,” hanged in her cell.