It’s a club no one wants to be a part of.
Grieving mothers of African-American men and women who have died at the hands of police gather periodically in Minnesota and elsewhere to comfort one another and fight for justice. And each time, they’re forced to recount the worst day of their lives.
On Saturday, a group of them met at the 2018 Take a Knee Conference at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, where about 75 social justice activists discussed police brutality and the evolution of a grass-roots movement that’s working to oppose it.
Hope Coleman, of Boston, clutched a massive photo of her son, Terrence Coleman, who was fatally shot by officers in 2016 during an altercation with paramedics. She’d called for an ambulance to take the 31-year-old homebound man to the hospital, but wound up planning a funeral instead.
“It’s a damn shame,” Coleman said through tears. “If I’d have known what was going to happen, I would have never called.”
Authorities have said Terrence attacked officers and emergency medical technicians with a knife. She disputes that account, saying that he was unarmed and had not hurt anyone when they came through the front door.
Toni Taylor, of St. Louis, has been carrying her grief for even longer. Her son, Cary Ball, was shot 21 times by police in 2013.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” Taylor said.
Activists like Nkume Boja Brock Satter, of Boston Mass Action Against Police Brutality, believe the women are “waking us up” to the reality of racial discrimination in America. Over the past three years, protests against officer-involved shootings of black men like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, grew to national proportions and prompted dialogues on community policing.
In 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick inspired protests when he knelt during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality against minorities. Satter and others are advocating for athletes on all levels to continue the silent demonstrations in an effort to keep the issue in the public eye.
“When somebody punches you across the jaw, you don’t just leave the ring. You fight back,” Satter said.
Satter saluted the Minnesota Lynx for the players’ social activism and for “having more courage than their male counterparts.” During the 2016 season, the WNBA fined the team — and several others — for sporting warm-up shirts in support of Black Lives Matter and honoring slain police officers.
“It’s a fire they’re trying to put out,” he said of authorities. “But we want to fan the flames.”
The two-day conference aims to build the movement and deepen the understanding of race relations with police. It will culminate on Sunday evening, when organizers plan to rally a few blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LII.