Lead Story Local News West Edition

Forum to feature mothers of slain black men

LOS ANGELES — The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice will join the mothers of other slain black men here May 30 at the Westin Hotel to attend a forum designed to develop a national strategy to mitigate police violence in urban communities across America.

The Black Mothers Standing in the Gap forum, created by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, will discuss how family members can get justice when their loved ones are killed in officer-involved shootings, Waters said.

“We’re going to have the women come out and just tell us what they’ve been going through, share with us their experience, how they’re coping and whatever they would like to advise the community that would be helpful in engaging with local police commissions and public policy makers,” Waters said in a phone interview.

Waters will moderate the program and ask the mothers to draw out their life story, their feelings and describe how the loss of their son has affected them, she said.

The congresswoman said she realizes there are more mothers who have lost their sons to police violence in recent months across the nation, but she said the invited guests represent a national growing trend of excessive police force seen in major U.S. cities, stretching from Staten Island, New York to Los Angeles.

The debate over the use of excessive force by police has spawned a Black Lives Matter movement that is urging government officials to provide increased training and body cameras for police officers.

Sybrina Fulton
Sybrina Fulton

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; Samira Rice, mother of Tamir Rice; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, and Tritobia Ford, mother of Ezell Ford are expected to tell attendees how they are coping with their pain and share whatever advice they have for black mothers on navigating through police investigations and the judicial system.

Attorney Benjamin Crump also is expected to deliver a keynote speech at the forum, according to a colleague at his firm. Crump has represented the families of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.

Lesley McSpadden
Lesley McSpadden

The event will be hosted by Black Women’s Forum, a nonprofit co-founded by Waters along with Ruth Washington, a former newspaper publisher, and Ethel Bradley, the widow of former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley.

The forum also will tackle the long-history of problems seen between minority communities and police, according to Waters.

In addition to the panel discussion, there also will be information on what the Congressional Black Caucus has been doing, she said.

“A lot of public policy is being written and developed,” Waters said. “Twenty-three legislation proposals have been introduced, some looking at body cameras, psychological evaluations and some states are trying to overturn the ‘Stand Your Ground laws.’”

Since Brown’s death, the Congressional Black Caucus has offered eight Ferguson-related pieces of legislation including the Grand Jury Reform Act, the End Racial Profiling Act and Transparency in Policing Act, according to Lauren Victoria Burke, a political analyst and writer.

For Waters, creating legislation to address these issues is essential, but community participation is equally important, whether it is speaking to police commissions about review boards for police misconduct or how young people should conduct themselves when engaging with officers.

“We’re going to have instruction cards, developed by the National Black Lawyers Association, instructing young people on how to act when stopped by the police,” she said. “[The card will talk] about keeping your hands clear so you’re not accused of taking out a weapon, not running and not being so angry that you provoke police officers to shoot.

“Hopefully, we can start a national campaign to spread the cards at colleges, churches, social clubs and labor organizations to pass them out to young people,” she said.

Waters’ interest in police abuse started years ago. In the 1990s, she challenged the Los Angele Police Department’s use of the now-banned chokehold, she said.

She made headlines when she invited herself to a meeting held by former-President George H.W. Bush discussing the 1992 civil unrest that followed the acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King.

But when Sybrina Fulton lost her son after a fatal encounter with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, Waters took on a healing approach in addition to supporting policy changes.

“We pulled 8 or 10 women who invited Sybrina to L.A. where we contributed a nice sum of money for her to go on a vacation, rest and meditate to take care of herself after dealing with the trauma that she had gone through,” Waters said.

Since then, the elected official and Fulton have appeared at rallies together and raised money for the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which provides support and advocacy for families who have lost members to violent crimes, according to the foundation’s website.

Waters said the mother of Eric Garner, who was killed when New York police officers used a chokehold on him last year, has plans to start a foundation. In February, his daughter, Erica Garner, started her own, the Garner Way Foundation.

Waters hopes the forum helps women inspire other women to do these sorts of activities, she said.

“Many people would like to do something but don’t have a clue as to how they can offer support,” she said.

The upcoming event is already generating buzz in Tacoma, Washington, where people would like to host a similar forum. Waters may propose the idea to some of the mothers about taking the forum on the road.

This weekend, she will meet with Fulton in Miami where the Travyon Martin Foundation will host a rest and relaxation event for family members whose loved ones were victims of violent crimes.

When asked how does it feel to see slow progress since the Rodney King beating to most recent LAPD killing of Brendon Glenn in Venice Beach, Waters said she is an “eternal optimist.”

“I’m never discouraged that we can’t make change. We’re at a time where there is growth in the recognition of this problem and people are less afraid to deal with it,” Water said.