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The morning of May 9 was wet and cold, but that did not deter families from gathering at Twiggs Park to stand in solidarity with those attending the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C. Melissa Blount, one of the event organizers, said the wet weather was symbolic: In order to make progress on race relations, she said, we all must be willing to first “be uncomfortable.”
Families across the country joined together on the day before Mother’s Day to show support for those who have been killed by police brutality and racial injustice. Kristine Nesslar, an organizer of the D.C. event, is an Evanston resident. She was called to action by the tragic events surrounding the death of Eric Garner and her friend Maria Hamilton’s son, Dontre Hamilton. The Evanston event was organized by friends of Ms. Nesslar.
“Racism is a public health issue,” said Ms. Blount. “It is important that this problem be addressed not just by areas hardest hit but by all. We are raising our children in fear. They are afraid to engage the police. We don’t want that to happen.”
Several Evanston police officers attended the event. Ms. Blount acknowledged and thanked them. Police officers are “seeing the worst of humanity every day. They need our support,” she said.
With signs reading “Black Lives Matter” scattered around the park, attendees listened while Lara Trubowitz read a portion of a list of 13 demands for reform. Number one on the list called on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to “establish and maintain a public directory of known officer-involved deaths within the last five years, including those deaths that occurred during law encounters and while individuals were in custody.”
Also included on this list were demands that the Department of Justice review all officer-related deaths and patterns and practices of police departments against which there is more than one complaint; that the Federal Government discontinue the supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement agencies; that officers wear body cameras; that there be changes in the selection, training, assignment and evaluation of police officers; and that the racial profiling ban be extended. (The complete list of demands can be found at mothersforjusticeunited.org in the advocacy tab.)
The rally continued with a series of powerful events. Attendees heard narratives written by moms affected by violence. Ms. Blount’s young daughter, Safiya Blount, led the group in singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl spoke of her fears leaving the hospital carrying her bi-racial grandson.
Water again became a symbol during a Libation Ceremony. During the enactment of this ancient African tradition, children read some of the 87 names of those killed by acts of violence, including Justin Murray, Lawrence Wilson and Dajae Coleman from Evanston. Water was poured onto the ground after each name was read and the crowd responded with “Ashay,” which means “Be with us.”
“We cannot heal trauma in isolation…silence will not protect you,” concluded Ms. Blount. She encouraged attendees to become a “part of the conversation” and help “build a community of like-minded people.”