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Families of Police Violence Victims Face Trauma Without Support

Truthout spoke with relatives of murdered Black men, who described feeling angry and isolated, their lives left in tatters.

Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, speaking, with Angela Naggie, mother of O'Shaine Evans, to the side, at an event in Oakland, California on April 9 about the struggles families of police brutality go through. (Photo: Adam Hudson)

Ever since the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson last August, even the mainstream press has paid a significant amount of attention to the deadly police violence inflicted on Black and Brown people across the country. However, while the names of some shooting victims are well known, less attention is paid to the plight their families face. Families of police brutality victims experience a level of suffering that is typically ignored and misunderstood.

In April, a roundtable of families of police brutality victims gathered in Oakland to discuss their experiences. Cephus Johnson (also known as Uncle Bobby), the uncle of Oscar Grant – who was infamously killed by a BART police officer in 2009 – explained some of the tough questions that victims’ family members wrestle with.

“They exploit their deaths all over the media and we have to relive it everyday.”

“We grow politically, as families,” Johnson said. “When it first happened, you hear us always say, ‘Don’t be violent! Be peaceful. We’re a peace-loving family. We don’t want you to break no windows or burn down the building.’ And obviously, that’s how we feel. But as we keep getting kicked in the face and kicked in the face and kicked in the face and see a system that just don’t care about us, you begin to say, ‘I can’t tell you how to respond. Respond in a way that you feel you need to get your point across. And I’m not going to condemn you if you break a window.’ Because what is a window, a building [in comparison] to a life?”

Angela Naggie, the mother of O’Shaine Evans – a 26-year-old Black male from Oakland who was killed by San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers – burst into tears as she spoke about how hard it is to heal after her son’s death. “I miss my child,” she said as she cried. Evans was the youngest of five children.

“This is what families go through,” explained Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner (an unarmed Black man who was killed by New York City police last year by an illegal chokehold caught on tape), at the event. “This is what families go through. We might seem like we’re strong but … it hurts.” She added, “They exploit their deaths all over the media and we have to relive it everyday. So how can we, as family, heal if we continue to keep seeing our loved one die or the next one die or the next one die and ask for questions?”

Cephus Uncle Bobby Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, speaking. (Photo: Adam Hudson)Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, speaking. (Photo: Adam Hudson)

The Family of O’Shaine Evans

O’Shaine Evans was killed by San Francisco police officers early last October, during a Tuesday night Giants game at AT&T Park. The five SFPD officers and one sergeant were conducting “crime suppression” in the area near AT&T Park to prevent “vehicle burglaries and other crimes that may be committed while fans are inside AT&T Park or in the area to watch the game,” according to an SFPD spokesman quoted in SFist. Around 9 pm, the officers followed a car, driven by Evans, believed to be “casing” the area (checking out an area before committing a robbery).

The officers said they saw two men from that vehicle rob a Mercedes SUV in a south-of-Market alley. A laptop was stolen from the SUV, while Evans remained in the vehicle. After robbing the SUV, the two men returned to the car – Steven Oliver Moore of Oakland in the front seat and a San Leandro man in the back, both in their mid-20s.

Then police confronted the men but claim that, in response, Evans pointed a .380-caliber pistol at them. The gun was unloaded and registered in the state of New York.

Officer David Goff fired seven shots at Evans, striking him twice and hitting the backseat passenger once. Moore, at that point, had jumped out of the car and fled, but was later arrested.

ABC News reported that, according to the Evans family’s attorney, James P. Segall-Gutierrez, “Witnesses reported that Evans had his hands on the car’s steering wheel when he was shot and that he did not pose an immediate threat to the police officers.” Last March, Segall-Gutierrez announced that he plans to sue the City of San Francisco and Police Department. He said the police shooting “was excessive, unreasonable and a violation of Evans’ rights.”

Neighborhoods “are full of families that have children whose lives have been filled with police brutality. So guess what? Yeah, you got high-crime areas. Yeah, you have drug use. Because people are hurting.”

Evans’ mother, Angela Naggie, also disputes the police account of events. Naggie told Truthout of the robbery, “My son didn’t have nothin’ to do with it.” She said Evans drove into San Francisco with his friends, “like he normally does,” to eat and hang out. His friends got out of the car and “start walking around, I guess he [Evans] was on the phone talking.” As his friends were walking around, they noticed a laptop in an SUV and decided to steal it. During the robbery, Evans was still in the car. “My son didn’t know what they were doing,” she said. Naggie also questioned how the police handled the situation, namely their slow response to the robbery. “You’re a police officer. And you saw somebody doing something dangerous. Would you let them do it and then you go stop them after? Does it make any sense?” she asked.

Naggie also said that her son was not the kind of person to point an unloaded gun at a police officer. “That’s not my son’s M.O. (modus operandi),” she said. “I raised him to be polite. Especially to police officers in this country.” When police stopped him weeks earlier for covering his car’s license plate, Naggie noted that the police remarked to her about how polite Evans was when she was called to get him.

Evans’ family is originally from Jamaica. They came to Oakland when he was 4 years old. He spent two years with his father in New York and then moved back to Oakland. Evans was very quiet, loved to play video games, had an interest in boxing and trained to become a boxer. Evans was religious: He was in the process of converting to Islam, specifically the Nation of Islam, when he died. Thus, he stopped eating pork and encouraged his family to stop eating it. “Right now, he’s gone but I try not to mess with pork,” Naggie said.

Ever since childhood, his family said, O’Shaine Evans was different from other kids. “He was the one who would sit in the corner and read a book,” explained Naggie. “He was the one who would just like to read up on certain things. He would go deep into things. Geography, Discovery Channel.” He also wanted to become a veterinarian.

However, her son’s humanity has certainly not been highlighted in mainstream media reports. Naggie expressed her mistrust of media in the months since her son died. “I used to believe what the media said. But I learned now, since my son died, don’t listen to the media,” she said, noting that, at one point, an ABC-7 reporter misquoted her. “The media are working for the police department.”

Her perspective of the police also changed. “I can’t be friends with these police. I cannot be friends, I cannot sit across the table from them,” she said, teary-eyed, during the Oakland event. “There’s too much anger inside of me right now.” Naggie told Truthout, “Every time, when I’m driving by, and I see the police stop anybody, I stop, take out my phone, and I videotape.”

Naggie has also become more politically active and outspoken. She has attended numerous protests and spoken at universities in the Bay area, such as UC Berkeley. She said of her son’s death: “It makes me more vulnerable out there in the streets. It let me learn that we have to come together. Because I’m in all these protests. Every protest running around here … It made me more aggressive, more vulnerable to certain things.”

The Family of Clinton Allen

On March 10, 2013, Dallas Police officer Clark Staller, who is white, fatally shot 25-year-old Clinton Allen, who is Black, seven times. Allen was unarmed, but Staller claimed that Clinton choked him after both of them flipped over a walkway railing. Dallas police responded to a 911 call from a woman who did not want Allen to visit her at the time. Allen was knocking on her apartment door several times and causing a disturbance. When Officer Staller confronted Allen, the scuffle occurred, and Staller killed him.

Allen’s mother, Collette Flanagan, provided further background on the incident. She told Truthout, “He went to visit a friend (the woman) to retrieve a television.” He was supposed to be at the apartment by 10 pm, but was late, and did not get there until midnight. By that time, the woman’s boyfriend was at the apartment, and she would not open the door when Allen knocked. “Clinton being persistent, as he was taught to be, he kept knocking on the door,” said Flanagan. “I’m sure it was annoying, but it wasn’t a reason why he had to die.”

As Allen kept knocking, the woman’s boyfriend got annoyed; the woman then told Clinton Allen that she was calling the police. He left the door after she called 911. That is when the police confronted him – ending his life. Allen was Collette’s only son.

On the Allen case, according to The Dallas Weekly, “There are over five witnesses who have made statements conflicting with the police department’s in sworn affidavits.” One witness said in their affidavit, “On 03/10/13 around 12:15 am I was coming into my apartment that night and saw Clinton Allen with his hands up and the officer pointing his gun at Clinton. … I heard 4 to 5 gunshots. I am an ex-military man, and I know aggression when I see it. Clinton was not showing any signs of aggression towards this officer. I doubt Clinton would have challenged this officer that was standing only about six feet from him with a gun pointed at him.”

The autopsy revealed Allen was shot four times in the chest, once in the abdomen, once in the back, and once under his arm, indicating that he had his hands up when Staller shot him.

Dallas police claimed Allen was high on drugs when Staller shot him. However, the toxicology report revealed “that the PCP and marijuana in his system was likely smoked two or three days before the shooting,” according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth. Even though Staller claimed that Allen choked him, Staller had no scratches or signs of struggle on his body.

However, in October 2013, a Dallas grand jury decided not to indict Staller.

Flanagan said her son “was a very kind person.” She said that, throughout Allen’s life, “One of my biggest fears was that he would get killed trying to break up a fight. Because that’s who he was. His nickname was ‘Big Baby’ because he was just a big baby. He was so kind to people. He made people feel special.” When Flanagan struggled with cancer, Allen “put his life on hold to be here with me during that process,” said Flanagan.

At the time of his death, Allen was going back to school to study agriculture to become a fifth-generation rancher in his family. He was also a father to two twin boys, who were 14 months old when he was killed. “All he ever wanted to be was a good father, and he was a good father for the short time that he had been,” she said.

Even though Allen made his share of mistakes, he never went to prison, and Flanagan said, “I was so proud of the man he was becoming.” If Allen had lived longer, she said, he would have become a leader in his community.

Allen’s family has experienced immense grief ever since that fateful day. Collette worked hard to keep her only son alive but, in one instant, he was gone – forever. “I don’t think that people really understand that. We’ve gotten so immune to police brutality, I don’t think people really understand what it does to a family,” said Flanagan.

Clinton Allen’s father had two strokes and cannot work, and Collette Flanagan has Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). Allen’s grandmother died “literally, from a broken heart,” according to Flanagan, because of the pain and grief she experienced after Clinton Allen’s death. She died at 69 years old, almost one year after Clinton died. “It has ripped our family to shreds,” she said.

Flanagan explained how she received little support after her son’s death. “There is no help,” she said. “You can’t even heal because there’s not a psychologist that can even understand this type of grief. I’ve gone through six of them. And they look at me like, ‘What do you mean the police shot your son? For what?’ They can’t even grasp this.” According to Flanagan, all of the psychologists she went to were white and upper-middle-class.

She added that, after a police shooting, no assistance is provided for burial. The police department wouldn’t even talk to her family, narrowing opportunities for closure.

“You are left in tatters,” Flanagan said. “We live in a city where the mayor won’t even say ‘police brutality.’ So it is the most horrible, isolating thing that can happen to a family.”

The trauma of police brutality also impacts the wider community. After recounting the difficulties her family experienced after her son was killed, Flanagan added, “And then you wonder why things like in Baltimore happen. You have these kids that have watched uncles, and cousins, and friends and friends’ dads get killed by policemen. And everyone totally understands now that policemen can kill with impunity and that district attorneys and grand juries will unequivocally not indict policemen.” She went on, “You have a broken mother who can no longer hold a family together then the family becomes broken. And when the family is broken, the community becomes broken.”

Flanagan notes that many Black neighborhoods in Dallas “are full of families that have children whose lives have been filled with police brutality. So guess what? Yeah, you got high-crime areas. Yeah, you have drug use. Because people are hurting.”

Like Naggie, Flanagan become more politically active after her son was killed. She founded the group Mothers Against Police Brutality to challenge systemic police violence. Flanagan did not want her son to become another household name like Oscar Grant. So rather than focus solely on getting justice for her son, she decided to challenge the system itself. The organization works with groups like Color Of Change, the Oscar Grant Foundation and others. Flanagan has zero patience with respectability politics, calls out leaders who are corrupt, and believes that radical change in the judicial system is necessary.

“Until we do something big and bold like that, this problem, no matter how much we march, no matter how much we protest, this problem is going to get worse,” Flanagan said. “We have to stop the respectability politics. And we have to call people out. And we have to put the mothers at the front of this fight because we are the biggest stakeholders. It has caused me to understand that this judicial system is flawed. It is unjust. It is unbalanced. And it is corrupt. And that’s the truth.”

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