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Mothers Who Lost Children in Police Clashes Share Tragic Bond

Rep. Maxine Waters and the Black Women's Forum brought together the moms of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner Mike Brown and others who've lost children to encounters with police.
Image: Maxine Waters
from left to right: Tritobia Ford, Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton, Rep. Maxine Waters, Sandra Thomas, Gwen CarrValerie Goodloe

In Los Angeles, more than a thousand community members turned out over the weekend for a luncheon in support of the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Mike Brown, as well as for some lesser-known moms who have also lost their children to violent encounters — often with police.

On Saturday, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, and the Black Women's Forum, a nonprofit she helped found in the 1980s, brought together Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin), Gwen Carr (Eric Garner) and Lesley McSpadden (Mike Brown).

They were joined by Tritobia Ford, whose 25-year old son, Ezell, struggled with mental health issues and was shot by police after he walked away from them, and Sandra Thomas, whose 35-year-old daughter, Alesia, was restrained in the back of a police car, where video captured by a camera inside a Los Angeles police patrol car shows an officer kicking her. Alesia lost consciousness and subsequently died.

"These women belong to a club no mother wants to belong to," said Waters, who organized the event to bring the women into a nurturing environment where they could be supported by those gathered, as well as by one another.

from left to right: Tritobia Ford, Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton, Rep. Maxine Waters, Sandra Thomas, Gwen CarrValerie Goodloe

Thomas, who should learn the officer's fate in the assault of her daughter on Monday, said Alesia had been crippled with the depressive end of bipolar disorder and had cocaine in her system that day.

After surrendering her 4-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son at a local precinct with clean clothes and their grandmother's number, Thomas was visited at home by police, apparently on presumption of child endangerment.

But when they tried to take her in and she refused, "she was pushed inside the police car," her mother said. A female police officer kicked Thomas and claimed that she thought Thomas was faking when she cried out for medical assistance.

In a statement, Los Angeles police has said the video "revealed some questionable tactics and improper comments."

Waters, who's been in Congress since 1991, founded Black Women's Forum in the 1980s to address those kinds of issues in the community. "It's unacceptable for someone with a gun and a badge to have that kind of power over someone who's unarmed, someone they're paid to protect and serve," she said.

While news reports may look at these slain children and question what they did wrong, Waters spoke about what each had done right, including Michael Brown, killed at 17: "When I saw him in his cap and gown," she said, "I knew he went to school and that he wanted to do something with his life."

"Yes ma'am," his mother responded.

For months, Ferguson, Missouri, where McSpadden lives, has been rocked by protests over her son's death and a grand jury's decision not to indict the officer who shot him.

Ford wanted luncheon attendees to know that her son, Ezell, came from a loving family. "His father and I have been together since we were 14," she shared, expressing resentment toward those who might link being of modest means with criminality. "We live in the hood, but the hood doesn't define us," she said.

Jeanette Williams was so moved by Eric Garner's being killed by a police chokehold that she had this T-shirt made.Pamela K. Johnson

Carr, whose asthmatic son died in a police chokehold on Staten Island, N.Y., said the grief for all of the mothers is nonstop.

"We hurt," she said. "These are our children, no matter how old they get."

Garner, 43, was the father of six and grandfather of two. He had attended Ohio University and struggled to find full-time work, and yet he did what he could to support his family, which sometimes included selling loose cigarettes on the streets where he ultimately died.

"He was my firstborn, my baby," Carr said.

Waters advocates a steady drumbeat of organizing and protesting against policies that don't seem to protect unarmed black and brown children from dying routinely in dealings with police.

Fulton agreed. "It's not good enough to register to vote," she said. "We have to vote on the issues. And when you're called to jury duty, you need to serve."

Her attorney, Benjamin Crump, also underscored the need for African-American jurors, even as the trial of the officer in Alesia Thomas' death was about to be decided by a Los Angeles jury that has only one African-American on it. Officer Mary O'Callaghan, charged with assaulting her, faces up to three years if convicted.

"When is America going to change the standard narrative around killing people of color?" Crump wondered aloud. He also represents McSpadden and Thomas.

The "standard narrative" is the claim by officers that they killed a person of color because they feared for their lives or they thought the person was reaching for a weapon.

"Now we have video that exposes the lie," Crump added.

"Our children are not making it home safely," said Fulton. "We want our children to make it home."

The Black Women's Forum (BWF) held 'Standing in the Gap,' a roundtable designed to honor black mothers who have lost loved ones to police brutality, on Saturday.Pamela K. Johnson