Citizens with cell phones are not enough: Families of men and boys killed by cops share grief

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

It's been almost nine months since Eric Garner died at the hands of a New York City police officer, sparking rounds of protests and calls for change. But through all the support, through all the activism, it still feels like yesterday to his widow.

“I feel so alone,” Esaw Snipes, Garner’s widow, said Wednesday as she broke down into tears. “Sometimes I just want to curl up and give up on life.”

Snipes was part of a panel at the National Action Network’s annual convention in Manhattan featuring the relatives of victims of police brutality. To her right was Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, the black teenager who was shot and killed last summer in Ferguson, Missouri. To her left were the parents of Sean Bell, the black man who was shot 50 times in 2006 on the morning of his own wedding.


Down the row were Nicole Bell, Sean’s former fiancee; Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; John Crawford Jr., the father of John Crawford III, who was shot by police in a Walmart; and Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old African-American boy who was fatally shot to death in Cleveland last year.

Their presence carried added significance on Wednesday, as the nation once again was left shocked and horrified by the brutal police shooting of an unarmed black man in South Carolina. Officer Michael Slager on Tuesday was charged with murder in the death of 50 year-old Walter Scott after video emerged of Scott fleeing the scene while Slager shot at him at least eight times in the back.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Emotions ran high as participants at the NAN convention, which was founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, called for some kind of justice once again. Sharpton said he planned to visit the community of North Charleston, South Carolina, soon, calling Scott’s death a “senseless tragedy.”


"When a black man is stopped for a broken tail light and ends up being shot multiple times in the back, it is yet another reminder that we need a national strategy to implement real and meaningful police reform now. We simply can't rely on citizens with video cameras to make sure justice is served. We know that the majority of police officers are fair and just public servants, but the events of the past year show we still have a long way to go to ensure every citizen in America is treated equally in the eyes of law enforcement. The time to act is now."

That was a key point addressed through the general skepticism on the panel, especially by Snipes. After all, she said, she — like millions of other people in America — watched her husband die in a chokehold. It was caught on camera. But the officer involved in that death, perpetuated by the banned NYPD practice of the “chokehold,” was not charged with a crime. Snipes said the solution can’t simply be “video camera nonsense.” Police in South Carolina have opposed a bill that would require police officers to wear body cameras in the past.


Benjamin Crump, an attorney who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, among others, told Fusion he plans to advise Chris Stewart, the Scott family’s attorney in North Charleston. Crump said he had spoken to McSpadden, Brown’s mother, early Wednesday morning. For her, he said, it brought back chilling flashbacks to her own case.

"She couldn't believe it," Crump said. "She said, that's what happened to my kid. And they were putting the same narrative out there. But only because we have it on video do we see the truth."


Earlier in the morning at the convention, Sharpton called a special guest to the stage — 6-year-old Tanner Gray. He thought of a poem last week, and he had shared it with Sharpton.

Gray stood up on a chair next to Sharpton and recited the poem. It read, in part:

"When I grew up, I wanted to be just like you;

But now I think not; you are gang members dressed up as cops;

Day after day, hour after hour, and every second on the clock;

I am yelling and screaming, when will these killings stop?

How many more killings will it take to arrest these crooked cops?"

Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.

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