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California families help convene gathering for justice in Detroit

DETROIT, MI— He’s been praying, organizing, protesting, and fighting for justice for almost a decade now; but each time Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson embraces a new family affected by police violence, he weeps as if his nephew, Oscar Grant III, was killed by Johannes Mehserle just yesterday.

The tears of many mothers and fathers flowed—not just Johnson’s—during the Families United 4 Justice (FU4J) Network gathering held at Allied Media’s 19th Annual Conference at Wayne State University.

They wept during a community organizing workshop facilitated by Cat Brooks, a Bay-Area activist/organizer. They told how police killings have and continue to impact them and their families. Many pled for support, particularly when the media and protestors have vanished.

FU4J’s one day gathering also featured workshops on topics like legal strategies, addressing shock, self-care, and how to deal with the media. Throughout the day, families worked on the Families Affected by Police Violence Workbook and future toolkit.

Breaks included a wholesome lunch, and much-needed spiritual sessions, which included yoga, and healing techniques, including reiki, acupuncture, and massages.

“What made the major impact in my life, was when Nicholas (Heyward, Sr.) came all the way to L.A. This brother embraced me, didn’t even know me from Adam, to let me know he was here to support us, and I never forgot that,” Johnson sobbed as he spoke to his unwitting peers about the affliction on his family by the former BART officer on New Year’s Day 2009.

“I made sure that I wanted to do the same thing for any family that I could get to help,” Johnson said as he thanked Heyward, who marked the 25th year of his son’s death at the hands of Brooklyn, NY police on Sep. 27, 1994.

“For me, it’s a very sad—but joyous—occasion because I am so honored to be in the presence of all of these families that refuse to give up the fight and the struggle,” Heyward stated, invoking applause from the families.

His 13-year-old son was playing cops and robbers with other children, wielding a colorful, plastic toy gun. “I really felt and believed that this officer was going to jail. I didn’t believe that this system was going to allow the police to shoot and kill an innocent child, and not do anything about it,” Heyward recalled.

“I’ve come to learn that they are not here to do any type of protection for us … It is really going to take us uniting in order to really put an end to this, because we cannot accept the fact that the officers shoot and kill our loved ones and they still are allowed to patrol certain communities. It’s just something that no human should accept,” he continued.

Johnson and his wife, Beatrice X, co-founders of the Oakland-based Love Not Blood Campaign, co-organized the event so families could connect and unite to support each other, he stated.

The compilation of their experiences and best practices will be made available to those affected by police violence.

“Our volunteers, and our activists, and our organizers, and our volunteers are all so committed, and I think the fact that everybody showed up is a real testament to how strongly they feel about this issue, and how much they really want to support the families on the front lines,” said Vanessa “Nissa” Chan, co-organizer of FU4J.

For Janet Baker of Houston, TX, being with families suffering similar ordeals and having access to the attorneys and other resources was everything she’s prayed for, ever since her son, Jordan, was killed by police.

Police claimed he matched the description of recent robbery suspects, and an officer who stopped him claimed the 26-year-old charged at him.

Baker said she suffers panic attacks, and her grandson, “Little Jordan,” seven at the time, has had stomach problems and trouble sleeping, since his father was killed. Sometimes he goes 24 hours without sleep, she said.

“It’s sort of surreal, because I’m in complete and utter amazement of the emotion that drives all of the families for being here … every little nuance,” she said. “I’m getting emotional now just because everybody is pushed in this environment, and you don’t know what to do.”

Attys. Adante Pointer of Oakland and Angel Harris of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund listened intently as families asked for tips on navigating civil proceedings and what to do about gag orders that prevent them from obtaining necessary information to fight their cases.

Pointed stated two of the biggest challenges he faces in litigating police brutality cases are denial and ignorance.

“The institutions that do not want to accept that they’ve done wrong, and do everything they can within their power to justify criminal, unlawful, immoral conduct of the police officers and all that they do to try to protect those officers and criminalize the victim of the police brutality,” Pointer said.

The second is then overcoming the public’s ignorance and hesitance to acknowledging the fact that this is a person who was harmed, killed, or victimized by the police and that it’s not a criminal, he continued.

“They didn’t do anything to deserve this. They didn’t provoke the officers to behave in a particular way. Often times, the public’s questions start from what did they do, as opposed to what did the police do,” argued Pointer.

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