“Mothers to the front.”
This weekend, more than 100 families from around the country gathered in the Twin Cities for the National Mother’s March and Weekend Against Police Violence. On Sunday, those mothers led hundreds of protesters in a march down University Avenue in St. Paul to the steps of the State Capitol. Some protesters pushed strollers or pulled kids in wagons as they shouted and waved signs.
It was a day of marches in the Twin Cities -- in South, Alabama’s Terry Willis finished up his 1,000-mile trek to George Floyd Square.
In St. Paul, protesters included mothers and members of groups like Take a Knee Nation, Justice Squad (led by the family of Brian Quiñones), the 10K Foundation, and Families Supporting Families Against Police Brutality, who addressed the crowd from the steps of the Capitol.
Lisa Simpson, mother of Richard Risher, was one of the first to speak. Her 18-year-old son was killed in 2016 after Los Angeles Police Department officers approached a group of people hanging out. Richard ran, and the officers started chasing him on foot, and fired over 60 rounds, striking him twice and killing him at the scene.
Simpson introduced mothers and other family members who came to the Twin Cities to call for justice. Also from L.A. was Dionne Smith-Downs, mother of James Rivera -- an unarmed 16-year-old killed by officers who fired 29 rounds into the stolen van he was driving -- and Valerie Rivera, mother of Eric Rivera -- shot by LAPD and run over by an uncontrolled patrol car because he had a toy gun. From St. Louis there was Toni Taylor, mother of Cary Ball Jr., shot 21 times as he ran from police.
The list went on and on. Families from New York, from St. Louis, from Columbus, from Valero. A large group from Atlanta. Family members of police murder victims who made international news -- Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile -- were in attendance, but there were a great deal more whose deaths never received widespread attention.
“Sorry, I have been encouraged to speed this up a little so people can’t miss their flights,” Simpson eventually said before handing the microphone to another speaker. “Unfortunately we won’t be able to call everybody’s name.”
(Organizers said they plan to put the whole list up on takeakneenation.org.)
“Good afternoon from Georgia!” said the mother of Jarvis Lykes, who was shot and killed by a state trooper at a DUI checkpoint in December 2017.
“My son’s death could have been prevented but there was no indictment,” she said. “If we could just get away from qualified immunity.”
“I drove from Stockton California all the way here, because I heard George Floyd say ‘Mama,’” said Smith-Downs. “That’s why we’re here."
“If you support the families, support them now,” she said. “We need you.”
It wasn’t just mothers. Andrew Ocasio remembered his mom, Sandy Guardiola, killed in upstate New York in 2017. Ocasio said police lied to them about the details of the wellness check that resulted in her murder: “When my sister got the call, five hours after my mother was shot, they told us my mother was in her living room with her gun pointed to her head and they had no other option … but she was killed and shot three times in her bed.”
“We came all the way from all over today -- mothers, families -- just to tell y’all that we are hurting” said CiCi Hamilton. Her cousin Diante Yarber, an unarmed father of three, was gunned down by police in a Walmart parking lot, in broad daylight, in 2017. “It ain’t just George Floyd, it ain’t just Trayvon, it’s a lot of us. A lot are unnamed.”
The march was hosted by a number of organizations with overlapping and somewhat different goals, with one thing in common: They want justice. “For us, this week, all we wanted to do is come out here, support the families … and give the system the same amount of hell that they’ve been giving these families for so many years,” said Royce White of the 10K Foundation.
One of the last to speak was Brock Satter with Boston’s Mass Action Against Police Brutality.
“In just five weeks we organized this, with basically no money and no resources -- showing the sentiment in this country that it’s truly a time for a change,” Satter said, adding that the event brought together more than 111 families across the country.
Satter encouraged people to adjourn to an open mic across the street, where several other families had a chance to take the floor.
“We just didn’t have enough time, because there’s so many families,” Satter said. “And that’s the grotesque reality that we face and we need to erase from our country.”
Before closing for the afternoon, he shared a declaration of the National Mother’s March and Weekend Against Police Violence, which read in part:
“We call on the world’s support in the fight by demanding that all past cases of police brutality be reopened. We demand the prosecution and conviction of all cops guilty of murder, abuse, and cover-ups, and those in government who aid and abet them. We call on all protesters to remain in the streets, to join us in this historic and righteous struggle. We must end the system of policing as we know it, because our protests will not stop until we receive justice.”