While the Vanguard is largely not going to cover national politics and the election this year for a number of reasons, the moment last night of nine women standing on the stage of the Democratic National Convention talking about the loss of their children humanized an ongoing saga that has been divisive in this country.
Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), Geneva Reed-Veal (mother of Sandra Bland), Lucia McBath (mother of Jordan Davis), Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner), Cleopatra Pendleton (mother of Hadiya Pendleton), Maria Hamilton (mother of Dontre Hamilton), Lezley McSpadden (mother of Michael Brown), and Wanda Johnson (mother of Oscar Grant) stood together as the “Mothers of the Movement”.
The three mothers, who spoke quite eloquently to the crowd, said they will not allow their children’s deaths to be without meaning.
As a father, when Ms. Reed-Veal, speaking of her daughter Sandra Bland, said, “What a blessing to be here tonight, so that Sandy can still speak through her mama,” it was all I could do to hold back tears.
There was one large and conspicuous absence on Tuesday night. It was Samaria Rice, mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by police in Cleveland while he played in the park.
As she explained in a recent interview with Fusion, she wants a “better America” but cannot find it through politics. She told Fusion, for example, she “thinks Trump ‘needs some help’ and doesn’t give a damn about black people or correcting the system that let the officer who killed Tamir walk away with no charges filed.”
But she is not supporting Ms. Clinton either, noting that no candidate is “speaking my language about police reform.”
She wants “a lot on the table, not a little bit of talk, a lot of talk about police brutality, police accountability, making new policies, taking some away, and just reforming the whole system. I think that would make me feel better, and no candidate has did that for me yet.”
She is critical of President Obama as well, saying that she “doesn’t have any love for him either.” The President is not doing enough “to challenge the state on its role in police brutality. Even his success as the first black president has not protected black people from racist cops.”
“He may mention something about it, but he’s not really going to go into details about it and hold the government responsible for killing innocent people,” she said.
“I will never forget that day,” she told Fusion, feet from where Tamir was shot. “Them taking my baby away at 12 years old, I still had nourishment to do for my son. He was only 12. He had just been 12 for five months. I still had a lot of nurturing to do for him, a lot of holding and kissing on him, and stuff like that. I know just 12 years old for a boy is like a turning point. I was guiding him in the right direction. I really was. He was really not a bad kid.”
Ms. Rice’s views are illustrated here for a number of reasons. First, that there is not one view or voice of those whose loved ones have been taken. But second, this isn’t just about politics, this about righting an injustice.
As Janell Ross writes in the Washington Post’s “The Fix,” “Americans who have not suffered these parents’ losses should be mindful about the ease of dismissing these parents as people exploited. And they should be particularly dubious of any suggestion that any of these parents and what they see as solutions to the United States’ current political problems should be dismissed out of hand. At the very least, these are parents who have decided to channel their grief in the direction of a political process or campaign they believe capable of keeping their ranks contained.”
She continues, “That’s hard under any circumstances. But, that’s harder still when one party just wrapped a convention where some speakers implied that police should not, under any circumstances, face questions about how they do their work, or, that black America does not care if someone who was not a police officer took their child’s life.
“And, let us not forget those who spoke exclusively about the value of blue lives at the Republican convention as if the deaths of unarmed people of color is just reasonable collateral damage in the nation’s totally just pursuit of law and order.”
Here is the video of their speeches:
Here is a transcript of their speeches.
One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter, Sandra Bland, was lowered into the ground in a coffin.
Sandy, my fourth of five daughters, was gone. No, not on administrative leave, but on permanent leave from this earth, found hanging in a jail cell after an unlawful traffic stop and an unlawful arrest.
Six other women died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children gone but not forgotten.
I’m here with Hillary Clinton because she is a leader and a mother who will say our children’s names. Hillary knows that when a young black life is cut short, it’s not just a personal loss. It is a national loss. It is a loss that diminishes all of us.
What a blessing to be here tonight, so that Sandy can still speak through her mama. And what a blessing it is for all of us that we have the opportunity, if we seize it, to cast our votes for a president who will help lead us down the path toward restoration and change.
You don’t stop being a parent when your child dies. I am still Jordan Davis’s mother. His life ended the day he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.
I still wake up every day thinking about how to parent him. How to protect him and his legacy. How to ensure his death doesn’t overshadow his life.
Here’s what you don’t know about my son. When Jordan was little, he wouldn’t eat a popsicle unless he had enough to bring out to his friends. He loved practical jokes. He liked having deep conversations about our love for God and why He allows suffering and pain.
I lived in fear my son would die like this. I even warned him that because he was a young, black man, he would meet people who didn’t value his life. That is a conversation no parent should ever have to have.
Hillary Clinton isn’t afraid to say black lives matter. She isn’t afraid to sit at a table with grieving mothers and bear the full force of our anguish. She doesn’t build walls around her heart. Not only did she listen to our problems, she invited us to become part of the solution.
And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and urging you to say their names. We’re going to keep building a future where police officers and communities of color work together in mutual respect to keep children, like Jordan, safe. Because the majority of police officers are good people doing a good job.
And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.
I am an unwilling participant in this movement. I would not have signed up for this. None of us would have. But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven. And for my other son, Jahvaris, who is still here on earth.
I didn’t want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of that light on a path out of this darkness.
Hillary Clinton has the compassion and understanding to comfort a grieving mother. She has the courage to lead the fight for common-sense gun legislation. And she has a plan to repair the divide that so often exists between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about protecting our children.
That’s why we’re here tonight with Hillary Clinton. And that’s why, in the memory of our children, we are imploring you—all of you—to vote in this election. Hillary is the one mother who can ensure our movement will succeed.
We leave you what God has given us, strength and peace.