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Families of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant on protests: 'White supremacy is on its way out'

Families of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant on protests: 'White supremacy is on its way out'Relatives of Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling and other black Americans killed by police describe a brutal road ahead – but some voice hope * George Floyd killing – latest US updates * See all our George Floyd coverage“I am enraged. I am on fire.” Weeks before what would have been Tamir Rice’s 18th birthday, his mother, Samaria Rice, is watching nationwide protests over the police killings of more unarmed black Americans. “I’m actually not thinking about any of these protests. I’m thinking about: how can the police departments be dismantled? How can their policies and laws be dismantled?” Rice said. “How are they able to kill black and brown people, senseless killings, with immunity?” It has been almost six years since her 12-year-old child was shot to death by a white police officer in a park in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014. Tamir had been playing with a toy gun. The officers involved faced no criminal charges. One was suspended for 10 days; the officer who killed Tamir was fired for lying on his job application, but later rehired by another police department. “I don’t understand how this is allowed to continue,” Rice said. “There’s a killer virus out there, and the police are still killing during a pandemic.”rice family For family members of black Americans killed by police and white vigilantes – including Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Alton Sterling – much of what they have witnessed in the past week is painfully familiar.But they also see signs of change. “I think people have had enough,” said Sybrina Fulton, whose unarmed 17-year-old son Trayvon was shot to death in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of all charges.Fulton said the size and intensity of the protests was a result of Americans witnessing the “back-to-back” killings of three unarmed black people: George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killed by the police, and Ahmaud Arbery shot to death by white men who decided he was a threat. Part of what was so infuriating about the video of George Floyd was the police officer’s attitude, several family members of black Americans killed by police said. “He sat there with his knee in his neck, with his hands in his pocket, with a smirk on his face, like it was funny, like that’s a fun thing to do,” Samaria Rice said. “That’s insulting. That’s a slap in the face. That’s why this protest is lasting.” Black Americans also know that white perpetrators of heinous acts of violence – such as Dylann Roof, the young white man who murdered black parishioners during a Bible study meeting in Charleston – have been taken into custody and are still alive today, Fulton said, while Floyd was killed after being accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. “It’s a cycle. It just keeps going and going and going,” said Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Alton Sterling’s eldest son. Sterling was 37 when a white police officer shot him six times as he was selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016. Video of the incident showed the officer shouting profanities at Sterling and threatening him. “Just like George Floyd pled for his life, Alton pleaded for his life, as well,” McMillon said. “I couldn’t see it as a racial profiling in the beginning, but as time goes on, now, I see, it’s all a racist issue,” she said. “The way they talked to him as if he was a dog in the streets, as if he was not a human being.” The officers involved were never criminally charged. After widespread public protests, the officer who killed Sterling was fired, but he appealed against the decision, and his firing was retracted and he was allowed to resign. One thing that is different now, McMillon said, is the behavior of the American president. The day after Sterling’s killing, during a protest in Dallas over his death, five police officers were ambushed and shot. quinyetta mcmillon and alton sterlingThe then president, Barack Obama, hosted a joint event that brought together McMillon and other family members of those lost to police shootings together with police and families of officers who had been killed, she said. “We welcomed each other with open arms, all of us,” McMillion said. The families cried together. Later, backstage, “we hugged each other and we prayed. Everyone was on the same page. Everyone felt the same pain. “Trump’s doing nothing,” she said. “Trump’s throwing a rock and hiding behind it. He’s sending out the troops to do his dirty work.” Some family members of people killed by police said they agreed with the protesters across the country who are pushing not just for procedural or training reforms, but to “defund the police”. Samaria Rice said she was sympathetic to that demand. “I’ve seen the body-cams be upgraded. I’ve seen the police policies as far as training be replaced. But that’s not enough for me, to do a dibble and a dabble,” Rice said. “If they can’t do their job correctly, what do they need the money for?” she said. “I definitely think the police don’t need more money. They need to be defunded.” Other family members still believe that their focus should be on reforming the practices of police departments. “I don’t agree with that,” Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, said of the “defund the police” slogan. “I think we need more police. We need police with better standards, and police with better ethics and better work habits.” Fulton is running for county commissioner in Florida. “I want residents to feel safe,” she said. “I want to bridge the gap between the law enforcement and the community.” What’s new about the current protests, several family members said, is how many white Americans are showing up to demonstrate. “I see people of all colors that are there, and that are standing with African Americans,” Fulton said. “They really saw what happened. They’re compassionate, and they feel the pain that we have been feeling for so many years.”Black Americans have been protesting about police brutality for decades, but now cellphone video means that other Americans can watch exactly what their treatment by the police looks like, Fulton said.“Now they see it, and it hits you right in your face,” she said. For anyone who watched the video of George Floyd, “if you had a heart beating in your chest, you knew it was wrong”.When 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot to death by a transit police officer in Oakland, California, in 2009, while lying restrained on the ground, there were widespread protests, said his uncle, Cephus X Johnson, known as “Uncle Bobby”. But there was also a tense counter-protest in support of the transit officer in nearly Walnut Creek, a wealthy suburb, Johnson said. Last year, Johnson, said, he watched as hundreds of white residents protested again in Walnut Creek. This time, he said, the protesters were demonstrating on the side of a black man killed by the police. “We have white allies today that are no longer just turning a blind eye,” Johnson said. “To see the power of our unity fighting this issue together has become critical.” With broader public support for protests against police brutality, Johnson said, he is also seeing more police violence targeting white protesters, something he said marks a change from the way police treated white people during the Oscar Grant movement. “They would be more gentle with them,” he said. “Now this viciousness is coming out ... They’re willing to put down a white boy, or an older white woman.” That escalating police violence is a sign “that change has come”, Johnson said. “White supremacy is on its way out,” he said, and “anything that really wants to survive will fight like hell to survive.” What’s coming in the next days and weeks is not going to be easy, Johnson said: “The true color of various legislators is coming out. The criminalization of the movement is going to pick up.” The point of criminalizing protesters is to “divide and conquer” and undermine their support. White supremacy “is not going to win, but the sad part is, it’s going to get even more vicious”.But progress for black civil rights in America has always come at a cost, he said: protesters brutalized, protesters murdered. “Some of us are going to die in the process of bringing real freedom, justice and equality,” he said.sybrina fulton and trayvon martinFulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, said she was keeping her faith in young protesters. It was young people, she said, who brought the story of Trayvon’s killing to the forefront, by protesting and posting photographs of themselves in hoodies. “It wasn’t the news outlets,” she said. “They picked it up because of the young people.” “They’re already passionate. They’re already fearless. I would just tell them to keep moving forward,” she said. Rice, who is still grieving that she will never know what her 12-year-old son Tamir would have looked like as a young man, said the current climate was like nothing she had ever experienced. “The country is in an uproar and we’re living on edge,” Samaria Rice said. “We don’t know what is going to happen next.” “God bless this country, that’s all I can say. I have never seen nothing like this, such a rage like this before,” she said. “This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. You cannot keep doing stuff to oppress people and think nothing is going to happen.”




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