Richard Risher was 18 years old when he was killed by Los Angeles police on July 25, 2016. His mother, Lisa Simpson, has been fighting on his behalf ever since.
“I’ve always been political,” Lisa tells Truthout.
Easy to talk to and incredibly intelligent, Lisa speaks fiercely about her love for her son. She is also outspoken about her frustration with the judicial system and the United States government as a whole, saying that the criminal legal system at large pays no mind “when it comes to the police killing our sons.”
Lisa is the mother of five children, and Richard was her middle child. He was born on April 29, 1998.
“At 2 years old, he knew how to ride a bike with no training wheels. He loved to sing and dance, and he loved kids,” says Lisa. “He wanted to play football, to go to college.”
In 2003, Lisa says she moved her children from Los Angeles to Apple Valley, California, a middle-class town in San Bernardino County about 90 miles outside of Los Angeles, with the hopes of giving her children a better life. However, Richard was forced to spend much of his childhood away from Apple Valley after becoming ensnared in the criminal legal system.
“He was in juvenile hall from the age of 12 to 17 for joyriding on a golf cart,” Lisa says.
Richard ran away from his placement in California and then left a second placement. As a result, he was moved to another youth placement, one of which held convicted murderers in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lisa fought for her son even then, and had the judge who tried Richard’s case, Joseph Lopez, removed from trying kids after she wrote a five-page deposition to the Bar Association.
“He could never try a kid again, so what he did turn was made my son a warden of the court,” Lisa explains.
Still, Richard received all of his high school credits, but he had to finish his last three weeks of school. He turned 18 on April 29, 2016, and at the time was in Los Angeles to spend some time with his father. Richard had been there a few months but started to argue with his father.
“He went to LA before his birthday. His daddy called me to let me know they had got into it. Three days later, he was dead. He was killed on July 25, 2016. He was with his friend, hanging out with his friend,” Lisa says.
Richard was in Nickerson Gardens, a public housing apartment complex located in Watts, Los Angeles. He was hanging out with his friends in a field when the police arrived, having been instructed in a roll call meeting the previous day to “monitor” the area for possible gang activity.
“They were all in the mini field. The police rolled past, so they’re still out there, still chilling,” Lisa says, adding that the police “came from the back of the shed” and chased Richard.
Police allege that a back-and-forth exchange of gunfire occurred between Richard and the officers, leaving one police officer injured in the arm, but Lisa contests this account, arguing that her son was never involved in gangs and that he did not have a gun.
The encounter ended with a police officer fatally shooting Richard.
The police did not immediately let Lisa know of the incident, Lisa says. One of her daughter’s friends was the one to tell her.
“They didn’t let me see my son, [and] they never gave me a police report,” Lisa says. “[Police] said my son’s DNA is on the bottom of the clip of the gun, but not on the trigger. They did a gunpowder ballistic test on my son, but they never gave a report.”
One witness told Lisa that what alarmed him was that the police shot through his daughter’s closet, which made Lisa think that the police were just shooting “military style,” as she calls it.
“Chasing him, shooting, never seen who he was. They shot him at the end of the projects,” Lisa says, adding that a witness named Belinda who lived in the apartment complex told her that her son had no gun.
Lisa has been essentially unsupported in her quest for answers and justice for her beloved son. She says her lawyers have been inconsistent, and according to Lisa, they believe everything the police tell them without any investigation. She adds that she also hasn’t found the kind of support she was hoping for from local activist groups, including Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
“I’m tired of this whole system. Ain’t no reforming this shit, you just need to abolish this shit,” she says, arguing that the closing of schools, increasing prison population and police violence are all part of the unreformable system that killed her son.
Lisa never liked the police, but obviously her feelings about them changed tremendously after her son was murdered by the cops.
“They hit my baby so many times,” she says, recounting what she says she heard personally from witnesses living in the complex. “When he fell, he broke his jaw. They ran past my son. They kicked him. They spit on him.”
According to a statement from the chief of police, officers were in the area “conducting crime suppression” and were checking for “juvenile gang members hanging out,” and looking to “enforce curfew violations.”
“This ain’t no police brutality. What they did to my son was police terrorism. Murder. Brutality is what they do to parents after they kill your child,” Lisa says, adding that her youngest son, Lyndon, who is 9 years old, was particularly traumatized by the loss of his brother.
Lyndon has even attended commission board meetings with Lisa because he says he wants to fight for his brother. He asked at one meeting, “Why did you officers kill my brother, and treat him like he was a dog?”
Lisa is about to put him in counseling because he has been bullied at school significantly following his brother’s murder, after which he turned inward and became more sensitive and introverted.
She says she has found support from certain mothers in other cities, particularly Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronald (RonnieMan) Johnson, who was killed by the Chicago Police Department.
“We talk damn near everyday,” Lisa says, adding that they talk about their fights, campaigns and memories of their sons.
The two mothers also took part in an action this past February in Minnesota during the Super Bowl: Mothers of those slain by police rallied outside of the US Bank Stadium, focusing on race, police violence and the right to protest as a part of the national conversation around NFL player Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.
Lisa wants accountability and justice.
“I got three names of three officers,” she says, “but I can’t put a face to any of their names. And there’s a fourth officer, but he’s confidential … he was out of his jurisdiction.”
“I’ve always been a fighter,” Lisa says, adding that she has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of laws and statutes related to policing.
She is intent on continuing her struggle for justice on her son’s behalf.
“[I miss] being able to hold him and kiss him and love on him and shit,” she says. “We were a real close family.”
She’s frequently traveling. On April 25, she had dinner with Mike Brown’s parents in St. Louis to discuss coming together and organizing intentionally against the legal system. From May 4 to 6, she is traveling to Cincinnati to speak out for her son with the people from Take a Knee Nation in Minneapolis who organized the Super Bowl actions. Then from May 18 to May 20, she will travel to Miami to the Circle of Mothers event with Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.