Having Lost Kin to Police Brutality, These Families Protested to Make It Stop

They say nothing is worse than outliving a child. These parents want to spare others that pain.

A protester in New York City on Oct. 22. (Photo: Rebecca McCray)

Oct 22, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

“In October of 2004, my son lost his life at the hands of the NYPD.”

Danette Chavis stood in New York City’s Union Square today and told her story to a crowd of supporters gathered in protest in spite of the rain. She recounted the death of her son Gregory Chavis, who died of a gunshot wound just a block from Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. He was 19.

Police allegedly demanded that the friends attempting to take him to the hospital put him down. After 30 minutes, he died on the curb with the hospital in plain sight. Ten years later, surrounded by the family members of other New Yorkers mourning their loved ones, Danette Chavis is still waiting for something to change.

For 18 years, organizers and activists like her have marked Oct. 22 as a day for communities to speak out against police brutality and mass incarceration. The day’s call for justice felt especially poignant as Americans mourn the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson.

Danette Chavis leads a protest. (Photo: Rebecca McCray)

In New York City, police treatment of blacks and Latinos took center stage. Protesters held signs bearing the names of those killed by police, including Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who in July died in a choke hold at the hands of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for illegally selling cigarettes.

Cynthia Howell, whose 57-year-old aunt died in a misguided NYPD raid in 2003, spoke beside Ellisha Flagg, sister of Eric Garner.

“I’ve been on this trek for 11 years. All across this country, the number [of deaths] is still mounting. We hope in New York City, with the death of Ellisha’s brother, somebody wakes up and gives us justice,” Howell told the crowd.

Demonstrations across the country sought to bring to light this lack of justice and what protesters perceive as a lack of accountability on the part of the police. Black and Latino men and women are disproportionately stopped, frisked, arrested, incarcerated, and killed in violent police encounters across the country.

The three-month investigation into Garner’s death led by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan has left many skeptical of Donovan’s ability to prosecute Pantaleo. This kind of delay is emblematic of the lack of justice felt by protesters around the country.

John D. Smith, a Manhattan native who joined today’s protest, echoed the sentiment, expressing apprehension about Staten Island’s delay in prosecuting Pantaleo.

“As a black man, I’m concerned about how police all over this country are abusing us. This goes back hundreds of years,” Smith said. “Revolutionary action is necessary.”