They are members of a club no mother wants to join. Mothers who have buried their children. But these women form an even more heartbreaking sorority — mothers who have lost their children at the hands of law enforcement or those purporting to be our protectors.
We know the names of the children killed: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Hadiya Pendleton, Dontre Hamilton, Jordan Davis. Last night on the DNC stage, we heard the voices of the women who bore, raised and then had to say goodbye to their children amid anger and confusion at a system that failed them and their children.
“I can’t breathe.” The last words of Eric Garner are seared on our brains. His mother, Gwen Carr, is supporting Hillary Clinton, and in an email to supporters stated: Along with too many others, Eric’s death has forced our country to confront the effects of police brutality. We’ve got to do something about the violence in our communities — especially gun violence — and the racial and economic injustice that’s connected to it,” Carr wrote. “Hillary seems to be the only candidate right now who’s talking about how we can be strategic in trying to solve this problem. That’s why I’m endorsing her for president.”
Her name is as familiar as her son’s. Trayvon Martin’s mother has been one of the most recent lingering images of a mother fighting for justice for her child. As to why she continues to be an activist: “I had to pick up my broken pieces, and I still have broken pieces but I’m recovering and I’m restoring and I’m learning how to adjust to my to new lifestyle. This is a new life for me because my previous life I had two sons, and so now the work that I do is on behalf of both sons. I wanted to make sure that this doesn’t happen to other people’s children and that our kids are growing up and able to grow up.”
Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer in April of 2014. As to how her son’s death at the hands of law enforcement affects her life and her son’s legacy, she says: “I’m a part of history. The work that we as mothers of the stolen lives is, as we perceive them, is we have a voice and the nation will have the opportunity to hear our voice and our stories.”
Jordan Davis was playing loud music in the parking lot of a convenience store in Florida. The state’s well-known and controversial “stand your ground” law, allowed a man who decided to shoot first and ask questions later. This law proved fatal to Jordan, who was shot to death. His mother, Lucia McBath explains why she is fighting for better gun policy: “… As his mother, the pain never subsides. And sadly, I’m far from the only mom feeling it. Every year more than 33,000 people are killed by gun violence in America. I know we can’t prevent every one of these senseless deaths. But surely we can prevent some of these fatalities — and I believe a good place to start is keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals who should obviously not have them.”
Michael Brown. Black Lives Matter. These words are forever linked. When Brown was shot in the back by a police officer, his death created a movement. Black Lives Matter is now part of our lexicon. His mother did not intend on becoming an activist, but she finds herself in that role now. “I just don’t look at myself as being an activist or any of those things people try to label me as,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to be treated fair and equal, and that’s what I’m fighting for for my son right now.”
Fifteen-year-old Hadiya Pendleton had just performed in the second inaugural activities of President Obama two weeks before she was shot and killed in Chicago. Her mother set out to help strengthen gun laws in the U.S. She believes that this would have saved her child and will save many others. “While Congress continues to sit idly by, the president stepped up to do more and these executive actions — including the decision to clarify what it means for an individual to be ‘engaged in the business’ of dealing in firearms — will protect countless Americans.
“Unlicensed gun sellers who have exploited vague language in our nation’s gun laws, and make a living of selling guns without a license, will no longer be able to evade the law. Now they will be required to become licensed dealers and perform criminal background checks on their buyers — ensuring that they don’t complete sales to dangerous people.
“Before Hadiya’s murder, I didn’t know much about gun laws. I didn’t know that our nation’s weak gun laws were fueling gun-trafficking and devastating cities like Chicago. But recent research from Everytown confirms what law enforcement have observed for some time: people ‘engaged in the business’ of selling firearms without a license are closely linked to illegal gun trafficking across state borders, from states with weak gun laws to states with stronger laws.”
Sandra Bland had just moved to Texas to start her dream job. Just days after moving, she was stopped by a traffic officer for failing to signal. A confrontation led to her being jailed. Three days later she was found dead in her cell. The authorities called it a suicide, but Bland’s mother knew otherwise. She summed up her support for Hillary Clinton and her continuing fight for justice for her daughter in a poem which begins:
Now is the time, this is the place,
Now we are ready. Hillary is the face.
Why am I endorsing this woman to my right?
Because she has for years continuously put up the fight.
–shannan l. hicks
Shannan L. Hicks is an attorney and librarian. Follow her @shanhicks.