BOSTON, MA – Demonstrators gathered at the Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury on April 4, demanding for justice for Stephon Clark, Usaamah Rahim, Terrance Coleman, and several other victims who were killed by police officers.
Organized by Mass Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB), the Not1More Rally Against Police Brutality gathered more than 120 activists, students, Boston residents, and concerned community members on a rainy, chilly day. Organizers felt that even though hundreds of thousands took to the streets in recent weeks to protest gun violence in the United States, police gun violence has largely been left out of the conversation. This was underscored by the shooting of 22 year-old Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man, in Sacramento, California, a killing which has sparked nationwide protests for more than two weeks. The demonstration also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I first encountered MAAPB in June 2017 at a rally and march they organized in Roxbury's Dudley Square to protest police brutality. Feeling frustrated by recent cases of extrajudicial police killings and the lack of intersectionality in gun violence conversations, I showed up to show my outrage, support the families of victims, and report on the movement.
“You should understand in all these cases that this is not really just about the unlawful acts of the police...It’s about whether or not you and I have rights in this country,” said Brock Satter, a lead organizer for MAAPB. “When we allow police to walk around and be the judge, jury, and executioner, you will be next. Or a loved one will be next. It’s not about Stephon Clark. It’s about you, it’s about me, it’s about all of us.”
It is difficult to find uniform statistics on lethal police shootings in the United States, in part due to the lack of reliable government data collection, as explained by The Guardian. Through the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, specifically Section 210402, the U.S. Congress mandated that the attorney general collect data on the use of excessive force by police and publish an annual report from the data. However, the bill lacked provisions for enforcement. The Guardian reports that in part due to the lack of participation from state and local agencies, the Bureau of Justice Statistics stopped keeping count in March 2014.
Following public attention to police-related killings after several well-publicized cases such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown, journalistic and crowd-sourced projects have emerged to track police shootings. According to the Washington Post police shootings database, which tracks fatal uses of force, 294 people have been shot and killed by police this year as of April 5, 2018. The same database reported that 987 people were fatally shot in 2017. Tracking broader patterns of police killings is Mapping Police Violence, a project affiliated with Black Lives Matter. The project reported 1,146 people killed by police in 2017 through some form of harm including shooting.
The Washington Post database also showed that in 2017, White people represented 42% of who was shot and killed by police, and Black people were 23% of the total killed. These statistics are similar in racial proportion to felony charges, yet Blacks only account for only 13% of the population. Moreover, between 2011 and 2014, the probability of being black, unarmed, and shot by police was 3.49 times higher than the probability of being white, unarmed, and shot by police, according to a study published in November 2015.
‘Nobody is safe, nobody is above the law’
At last week’s rally, Satter presented MAAPB’s demands to achieve justice for the victims and families of police shootings: “We demand that [Massachusetts] Attorney General Maura Healey immediately appoint a special prosecutor to reopen the cases of Terrance Coleman, Usaamah Rahim, Burrell Ramsey-White, Ross Batista, Santos Laboy, Michael McInness, Randolph McClain, Denis Reynoso, and Daniel Gillis – among others.”
Satter also called for greater accountability from elected officials, including Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, in reference to the case of Mary Holmes. In 2014, Roxbury resident Mary Holmes was pepper-sprayed and beaten with a baton by two Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) police officers when she attempted to help another woman at the Dudley Square bus station. According to The Boston Globe, Holmes sued the officers in 2015 in US District Court and added the MBTA a year later. She finally reached a settlement with the MBTA in June 2017, also requiring the agency to post its use-of-force policy online and make it easier to file online complaints about officers’ conduct.
Jennifer Garvey, one of the officers involved in the situation, was indicted by DA Dan Conley on criminal charges in 2016. She was found guilty of assault and battery and filing false reports, then sentenced to six months in jail in August 2017. MAAPB insists that the prosecution needs to change to include the additional officers who were involved with Garvey and helped her file the false police report.
“If it weren’t for the fight of people like Mary Holmes, and everyday people like you and me, there would be no justice. Even though [Suffolk County DA] Dan Conley is on his way out, he should be investigated and his office should be investigated for their conduct,” explained Satter to demonstrators. “All across the nation, it’s not enough to re-elect new DAs. They need to be held accountable for their unlawful acts. Nobody is safe, nobody is above the law. That’s the big message we’ve been trying to tell.”
“We need to call out Mayor Marty Walsh,” Satter added. “His job is to defend your rights. Once again, he is an official of the government who is more concerned with protecting the police than the law of the land and peoples’ rights. He immediately took the side of Zachary Crossen when he was asked about the viral video. No, it was clear – there was evidence.”
Satter also commended the support network of mothers and families that emerged out of these tragedies: “As this message goes out, we want to reach out to all the victims of police brutality, and all those families who have lost loved ones. Come forward, join us, and join these mothers who have been exposing these crimes of the system. Together, that’s how we’ll find justice – when we have each other’s back.”
Mothers of the victims awaiting answers
Rahima Rahim, mother of Usaamah Rahim, who was killed by an FBI agent and a Boston police detective in Roslindale on June 2nd, 2015, demanded that her son's case be reopened. The story drew national attention from The New York Times, CNN, CBS News, and NBC News as Ussamah Rahim was a suspected ISIS-affiliated extremist. According to the arrest affidavit obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Rahim had been under surveillance since May 2015, when he purchased three knives on Amazon.com. A law enforcement official also claimed Mr. Rahim had become radicalized online and that he posed an “imminent threat” on the morning he was confronted, and ultimately killed.
Rahima Rahim, relatives, and Muslim leaders in the community were unaware of any radicalization, but remained dedicated to ensuring a transparent investigation. Ms. Rahim is now left without answers. In August 2016, DA Dan Conley said the shooting of Mr. Rahim in a parking lot by members of an anti-terror squad lot was justified, and prosecutors did not bring charges against the detective and FBI agent. Mr. Rahim’s nephew, David Wright, was also arrested in connection with the terror probe. In December 2017, Wright was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for plotting to kill Americans on behalf of the Islamic State.
“We are, right here, in our country of the United States of America. We have to stand up for our justice. We have rights. It’s our right to be here and it’s our right to be alive,” said Rahima Rahim at the rally. “My son’s life was snuffed out. At 26 years of age, he shot down three times – in the back, in the chest, and in the groin. And then he was taken by ambulance to a hospital 25 minutes away from where he was shot, when there was a hospital five minutes away. I say that was unfair. He was meant to die. They meant to kill my son. It was an assassination.”
“According to Wikipedia, lynching was ‘the practice of murder by extrajudicial actions.’ The shooting of Black citizens in this day and time is another form of lynching, just using an entirely different form of technology. It’s all the same; nothing has changed but the weapon,” stated Ms. Rahim. “On the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, I’m speaking to you today – it was my son. And it may be yours tomorrow. We have to stand up now and say not one more.”
For Hope Coleman, she did not expect that a 911 call to come to the aid of her mentally ill son would result in his death. On October 30, 2016, Ms. Coleman called an ambulance to take her son, Terrance Coleman, who was 31 years old at the time and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, to the hospital because she was worried he would catch pneumonia after sitting on the stoop of her South End apartment for two days. When the EMTs and two police officers arrived, one of the officers fatally shot Mr. Coleman in the abdomen twice, saying that Mr. Coleman turned on them with a knife. Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said, “We have to meet deadly force with deadly force.” Hope Coleman strongly disputes this claim, saying that Terrence was unarmed, that he posed no harm to the officers who were outside the apartment, and that the knife lay untouched on the kitchen table.
It has been Hope Coleman’s mission ever since to find justice for Terrence’s death. In August 2017, the Suffolk County DA Daniel F. Conley’s office released its independent investigation of the shooting and found that the officer who shot Coleman, Garrett Boyle, was justified in using deadly force during the confrontation. On April 4, Ms. Coleman filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Boston, Boston police, and city emergency medical officials, alleging lack of training and discriminatory policies led officers to kill a man suffering from chronic mental illness.
As reported by WBUR, the complaint – filed by the Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the law firm Fick & Marx – say that police unnecessarily responded to a 911 call from Hope Coleman for an ambulance to take Terrence to the hospital for medical attention. It says Terrence Coleman's death was "a result of a BPD officer’s use of excessive, unreasonable, and deadly force" and that the city "systematically and knowingly fails to train its police officers and EMTs to provide appropriate services" to people with mental health disabilities.
“I’m here for justice for all. I’m not stopping until I get justice for my son,” Hope Coleman said to the crowd through tears. “My son didn’t deserve to get shot. I brought him into this world but did not want for him to be killed when I called for help.”
‘This isn’t just a Black issue’
“Today we gather with these families in support. But tomorrow when we wake up, are we going to read that somebody else has died? Who’s been killed, ruthlessly? With no justice to come? I don’t want to be out here again but I will do it every single day if I have to,” said Sirad Zahra, lead organizer with MAAPB. “We have this day right now. We can’t get yesterday back. These cops make a little mistake – what’s the payback? We can’t rewind. And they don’t care, they just keep doing it.”
“I thank you all for coming out here, it wasn’t easy. You know how it is in Boston with the weather. You all have a lot of heart to come out here in the rain and not knowing how things are going to turn out,” Zahra stated.
The demands from MAAPB also included:
Immediately indict and arrest the police officers who killed Stephon Clark.
Stop any police harassment of witnesses, family, or protesters of this outrage.
Immediately fire Boston Police Officer Zachary Crossen, who was recently seen harassing and racially profiling a Black resident who was not engaged in any criminal activity in a viral video.
Immediately fire and convict off-duty Boston Police Officer Dominic A. Columbo for causing life threatening injuries to Dorchester resident Jose Teixeira while Columbo was drunk and speeding on New Year's Day.
Fire Boston Police Officers Garrett Boyle and Kevin Finn for the shooting of Terrance Coleman.
Full financial compensation for families of victims and survivors of police brutality and an immediate end to the intimidation of victims, survivors, their families, and protestors.
“This isn’t just a Black issue. Black people are disproportionately affected by police violence, and we definitely highlight and focus on that. But everyone’s affected, white people too – and they will kill white people like they kill Black people,” Satter emphasized. “And they will circle their way to protect the blue before you. That’s the society we live in. We’re trying to break down this blue wall of silence so justice can flow across this land like a mighty stream, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
‘We have nothing to lose but our chains’
Tania Bell-Sykes, lead organizer with MAAPB, urged demonstrators to continue taking action. “Every time [the police] take a life, we need to show up. Let’s not say it, let’s do it. Let’s let them know there is a cost. There is a cost when you’ve taken someone’s loved one, but unfortunately when one of yours is hurt, there’s a problem. Well, guess what – ours are hurt, and it’s a problem.”
“Let’s also be clear this isn’t just about the police, it’s about the police unions. The unions are causing this, and unfortunately when they murder someone and they do a payout, the police officers aren’t paying out, your taxes pay for that life that was taken. So that school we don’t have in our community? That’s because they murdered someone,” said Bell-Sykes.
“The fact that we have a government that has been doing this for centuries and we’re not doing something about it? It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Nicole Eigbrett is the Director of Communications for Weave News and occasionally reports on social justice movements and transracial/transnational adoption. Follow her on Twitter @Nicolewhaat.
Banner photo description: Unidentified demonstrators hold signs saying ‘Jail State Trooper Matt Sheehan’, ‘Jail Killer KKKops’, and ‘Mass Action Against Brutality’. (Credit: Emily Goldhammer)