‘They murder our children, and we get no justice’

By Areeba Shah
Medill Reports

Ronald Johnson would have turned 30 this October.

But instead of celebrating his birthday, his mother, Dorothy Holmes, organized a communitywide discussion to commemorate those who lost their lives to “police violence.” Five years ago, a Chicago police officer fatally shot Ronald Johnson.

“Any mother who is alone in this struggle, don’t let anybody tell you that you’re going to be OK,” Holmes said. “No, you’re not. You’re going to have your good days and you’re going to have your bad days, and you let your good days outweigh your bad days because it hurts, and I don’t wish this pain on anybody.”

Since the death of her son, an avid animal lover known as “dog-man,” Holmes organized with mothers nationally to call attention to how law enforcement responds to issues in communities of color. Six mothers whose sons were fatally shot by police joined her to share their stories in a roundtable discussion with community members Oct. 11 at the University of Chicago.

Some mothers wore T-shirts with photos of their sons and the dates they lost them. About 25 community activists and social work students from University of Chicago filled the seats for the three-hour-long event.

“People want to put a time limit on people’s grief,” said Regina Cartharn, who sat on Martin Luther King Jr.’s shoulders as a little girl at a civil-rights march. She came from Iowa to fight for justice for her cousin, Ronald Johnson, and support mothers who lost their children to the justice system.

“Life goes on, but it will never be the same,” she added.

“There is no time limit on your grief. You know, when you’ve carried a child for nine months, and you watch them become an adult, get gunned down, it’s just unjustifiable.”

For Lisa Simpson, who lost her only son, Richard Risher, when he was 18, this holds true. She’s vowed to push criminal charges against the officer who shot him.

“I don’t want to fix the (criminal justice) system,” Simpson said. “I want to abolish the whole system.”

LAPD officers shot her son in July of 2016 during what the officers described as a back-and-forth exchange of gunfire between the officers and Risher, according to the commission’s report.

But Simpson said her son didn’t shoot at the police. Since the incident, she repeatedly showed up to the commission’s weekly meetings, demanding justice.

Risher died after officers fired 64 rounds at him, two of which wounded his body and ultimately killed him, according to the police report.

“We’re dying in our communities by the hands of law enforcement agencies all over the states,” Simpson said. “See nobody wants to have this conversation.”

This problem affects all 50 states, she added. People can’t reform the system.

“How are you going to make it (the system) greater when it was built on lies in the first place,” she said. “When has America ever been great?”

This year police officers have shot 713 people, nine of whom died in Chicago, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Since 2015, 23 percent of those fatally shot by police were African Americans – 36 percent of whom were unarmed.

“You do not know what it is to be black,” Cartharn said.

Under this nation, African Americans are struggling the most, she added.

Like many other mothers who lost their sons to police violence, Anthanette Marshbanks is trying to get her son’s case reopened.

In April 2012, Archie Chambers Jr. attended a car show at What’s Up Bar and Grill in Calumet City, and gunfire broke out. When the police arrived, a person at the scene told them the shooter or shooters fled in a gray car, according to Marshbanks v. City of Calumet City.

Chambers emerged from two parked vehicles, firing two to three shots in the air, according to the officers. They disputed whether the officers ordered Chambers to drop his weapon.

The report didn’t include any of the officers’ names and refers to them as “defendant officers” to protect their identities.

When officers at the scene saw him drop his gun, they didn’t tell other officers to stop shooting at him, according to the report. Chambers ran to a nearby fence with an officer shooting at him 11 to 13 times and ultimately killing him.

No gun was found on his body. Another defendant officer testified that Chambers didn’t shoot at the police officers.

“The day that they said no criminal charges will be brought against the officer, that officer was sitting directly in front of my face, so that officer directly shot me in my heart also,” Marshbanks said.

Chambers’ case closed three years ago. Initially, Marshbanks’ lawyer asked her to settle, she added.

“And to this day that police officer is a police officer, and I was served injustice,” she said.

Her son’s file doesn’t have a police officer’s name attached to it, she added. After seven years, she’s unaware of who killed him.

“I’ll use the rest of my life fighting for change for my baby,” she said.

Joining her were other mothers like Dorothy Holmes, Chantal Brooks, Lisa Simpson and Alicia Kirkland, whose 17-year-old son Angelo Miller was fatally shot March 2007 by a Cleveland police officer.

Their strength comes from community activists who force attention onto these issues, said Ailsinn Pulley, moderator and co-executive director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center.

“We believe that we have to create, we have to have mass movement because the status quo operates to allow conditions to stay the same, which means mass incarceration continues, our folks get killed and locked up,” Pulley said. “That continues, and police are held unaccountable.”

Photo at top: Anthanette Marshbanks (far left) speaks to other mothers about the death of her son, Archie Chambers Jr., as part of the “What Justice Looks Like” discussion Oct. 11 at the University of Chicago. (Areeba Shah/MEDILL)
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