By Dennis J. Freeman
Tritobia Ford, mother of Ezell Ford, the mentally ill man who died during an altercation with LAPD officers, is comforted during the â€œBlack Mothers Standing in the Gapâ€ event that was co-sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Black Womenâ€™s Forum. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/
LOS ANGELES-Trayvon Martin walked home with a bag of Skittles and iced tea in his hands. Eric Garner had just broken up a fight. Tamir Rice was playing around on a playground being a kid. Ezell Ford was minding his own business. Michael Brown had his hands up. Alesia Thomas dropped her two kids off at a police station with a note for their grandmother to be called. Theyâ€™re all dead. And it shouldnâ€™t be this way.
The pain has not gone away for the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Alesia Thomas, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. It may never go away. You can hear it in the crackle of their voices when they speak. You can see it in the stream of tears that flow down their broken faces. The hurt is unimaginable.
Trayvon Martinâ€™s mother, Sybrina Fulton, tries to convey her message at the â€œBlack Mothers Standing in the Gapâ€ event sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Black Womenâ€™s Forum at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, May 30, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Theyâ€™re now taking that pain to the masses to assist with the healing process and to help other mothers going through what theyâ€™ve already experienced. This is not what they signed up for when they became mothers. These mothers are now the faces of a social movement of reform to combat excessive and deadly force used by the police. Their lives are now intertwined with one another, their voices now a collective blend of harmony for justice.
Trayvon Martin was minding his own business when George Zimmerman stalked, confronted and shot him to death after the two got into a physical brawl. Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York police officer while committing no crime at the time of his demise. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun when Cleveland police rolled up on him unsuspectingly and shot him to death.
Thomas and Ford died at the hands of LAPD officers-directly and indirectly. The shooting death of Michael Brown set off the Ferguson unrest and unleashed â€œBlack Lives Matterâ€ banter across the world. In the case of Thomas and Ford, the outcome of their respective cases, turned 180 degrees from one another.
LAPD, in their own investigation, cleared the officers involved in the shooting death of the mentally challenged Ezell Ford. Sandra Thomas received some heartening news when a jury convicted the officer involved in her daughterâ€™s death.
Sybrina Fulton (Tayvon Martin), Lesley McSpadden (Michael Brown), Gwen Carr (Eric Garner), Tritobia Ford (Ezell Ford), and Sandra Thomas (Alesia Thomas), showed up at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel on Saturday, May 30, ready to speak their minds at a three-hour event that was hosted by the Black Womenâ€™s Forum and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Emotions ran high and fluctuated with raw intensity.
One of the resounding narratives arising from all of these incidents is how character denouncement of the victims have run rampant and wild, an inescapable rebuke the media has taken part in.
â€œThey victimize the victims,â€ Fulton said. â€œAnd what they do is they say things about the victims to probably justify the demon that came out from within them. And the reason why I say itâ€™s a demon, because a lot of people donâ€™t want to say what it is. I lot of people donâ€™t want to say racial profiling, racial discrimination and things like that. But we have to speak it, because if we donâ€™t speak it we are part of the problem.
â€œYou have to acknowledge that there is a problem in the United States. Trayvon had just turned 17-years old three weeks before he was murderedâ€¦He was not lost. We didnâ€™t lose our children. They were murderedâ€¦This has devastated our family.â€
Make no doubt about it, these mothersâ€™ testimonies pulled at the heartstrings of the audience. Re-telling the painful stories of how their children lives were inexplicably snuffed out by law enforcement personnel (the murder of Trayvon Martin being the exception) has been nothing short of nightmarish for these mothers.
No justice, no peace.
â€œMy son wasnâ€™t lost. He was murdered by LAPD,â€ Tritobia Ford said before the Los Angeles Police Commission ruling came out on her sonâ€™s case . â€œLAPD have not had the respect, the compassionâ€¦they have not had any concerns to get in touch with me and my family. They stalled the investigation. Itâ€™s been almost a year, and we still donâ€™t have any answers. Chief Beck has not gotten in contact with my family. He gets on TV, and make LAPD look like this great police department, yet they ignore the fact they killed my son.â€
The pursuit of justice for these mothers is an endless battle, but one they have no choice but to commit to. Their journey to peace is now an endless chase. As each of the mothers took turns to describe what life has been like for them, the intensity of achieving that justice in the name of their slain children, has picked up in an international way.
Reaction to Brownâ€™s death triggered the unrest in Ferguson and sparked protests nationwide. Martinâ€™s killing at the hands of neighborhood watchmen George Zimmerman, alarmed the nation with outrage. The situations surrounding the deaths of Ezell Ford, Thomas and 12-year old Tamir Rice, has also penetrated Americaâ€™s consciousness.
Sadly, this commentary is not reflective of isolation incidents. There are way too many others. For black families across the country, there are just too many of these stories to count. The narrative has become disturbingly too familiar. It has become more than a trend.
It has almost become established practice to kill a young black person and get away with little or no accountability. Fulton, Thomas, Carr, Ford and McSpadden all spoke on this subject. Needless to say, there was a lot of hurt on display during the capacity-filled, â€œBlack Mothers Standing in the Gapâ€ event. And a lot of suppressed rage.
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, speaks to the audience at the â€œBlack Mothers Standing in the Gapâ€ event co-sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Black Womenâ€™s Forum on Saturday, May 30, 2015. The event was held at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Sandra Thomas has a lot of it these days. Her daughter, Alesia Thomas, died in the custody of LAPD officers, after she had dropped her two kids off at a local police station. Video catches a handcuffed Thomas being kicked in the crotch seven times and hit in the throat by LAPD officer Mary Oâ€™ Callaghan. Callaghan was recently convicted of assault on Thomas and faces three years in state prison. That may bring little solace to her mother.
Lesley McSpadden. mother of Michael Brown, speaks at the â€œBlack Mothers Standing in the Gapâ€ event that was co-sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Black Womenâ€™s Forum on Saturday, May 30, 2015. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
â€œThey just let her suffocate in the backseat of that car and die,â€ Sandra Thomas said. â€œIâ€™m happy youâ€™ve learned about my daughterâ€¦but under these circumstances Iâ€™m not so happy.â€
Beyond the obvious veil of pain was a forged strength between the mothers. Strength comes in numbers. And there was plenty of quiet strength being exhibited by these mothers. It is because of that strength that communities must pick up the mantle of action and activism instead of engaging in passionless pageantry.
Dennis Freeman is a seasoned sports and news journalist. Dennis has covered the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and other major sports. He has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. An original member in the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship Program, Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.