Families of Police Victims Create Community Amidst Tragedy

Roseville, MN – Over a dozen family members of loved ones killed by police graced a packed banquet in remembrance of Cordale Handy on Saturday, March 18, 2018. At the Radisson Hotel in Roseville, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, around 100 people came out to honor and remember Cordale Handy, as well as many other victims and to share a space to grieve, support, and heal. Near the end of the banquet, Kim Handy-Jones gave the families of Marcus Golden and Jaffort Smith donations of headstones for their gravesites.

Kim Handy-Jones & Monique Cullars-Doty embrace after Kim donates headstone for Marcus Golden
“It’s not the actions of your enemies that you’ll remember but the reactions of your friends” – Kim Handy-Jones gives headstone to Jaffort Smith’s mom and wife

Unicorn Riot was live for the Remembering Cordale Handy Memorial Banquet, which featured emotional speeches by mothers and families impacted by police violence, entertainment, a keynote speaker, community organizer speakers, dinner, dancing, giveaways, and more.

The family members and mothers have created a community of solidarity for each other, and that love was on full display with Kim Handy-Jones and the others continually expressing gratitude towards the community that has opened their arms to them.

After being welcomed by the evenings emcee, Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds, Kim Handy-Jones opened by pointing out the β€œmother’s table” on the other side of the ballroom, where mothers, aunts, and wives of police killings were seated, she said, β€œI’m looking at some strong women right there at the mother’s table that are putting up the fight”.

The “mother’s table” is featured in the cover image, with sitting from left to right; Allysza Castile, Yolanda McNair, Valerie Castile, Kim Handy-Jones, Marion Gray-Hopkins, Matilda Smith, Kay Smith, Pang Yang – Not Pictured: Monique Cullars-Doty.

Valerie Castile speaks as Kim Handy-Jones, Marion Gray-Hopkins, Yolanda McNair, Matilda Smith, Kay Smith, Monique Cullars-Doty, and Pang Yang look on

The night was filled with speeches and stories, with some of the most tear-jerking from the families of loved ones impacted by police violence also Kim Handy-Jones’ gifts of headstones to Matilda and Kay Smith and Monique Cullars-Doty for the graves of Jaffort Smith and Marcus Golden. (Both families hadn’t had the financial capacity to provide grave headstones. Jaffort’s family said his body was actually lost in the graveyard at one point with the wrong headstone being placed over it.)

Kim played the part of host during the families section of the banquet, and spoke about the friendship and community that they all are creating in the midst of tragedy. She personalized each introduction with specific traits and memories of meeting or hearing about the stories of the others.

A brief summation of the families’ loved ones stories (watch the banquet to hear from the families themselves);

  • Philando Castile, 32-year-old school cafeteria worker shot to death in a traffic stop by Jeronimo Yanez (St. Anthony police officer) on July 6, 2016 near St. Paul, Minnesota (this led to occupation of Governor’s mansion and weeks of large protests). Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, and more, have created the Philando Castile Relief Foundation provides resources and support for families of victims of gun and police violence. Also, in honor of Philando’s past efforts of paying off cafeteria debt, the Philando Feeds the Children foundation pays off school children’s lunch debt and recently paid ALL of the lunch debt in the St. Paul Public Schools.
  • Adaisha Miller, a 24-year-old unarmed woman shot and killed by Isaac Parrish (Detroit police officer) in July of 2012 in Detroit while at a police officers party. Yolanda McNair, Adaisha’s mother has created the support group called P.O.S.T. or Protecting Our Stolen Treasures which fights for “justice not only for our fallen but for all victims of police murder and dysfunctional system that not only protects them but insures that they are never held accountable for their actions.
  • Cordale Handy, a 29-year-old going through a mental crisis was shot and killed by Mikko Norman and Nathaniel Younce (St. Paul police officers) on March 15, 2018 in St. Paul after they responded to a domestic disturbance call. His mother, Kim Handy-Jones has been on a crusade for justice for her son and for other families impacted by police violence. Kim has been a constant source of energy, motivation, love, care, and support for many grieving mothers and family members.
  • Gary Hopkins Jr., a 19-year-old unarmed college student killed by Brian C. Catlett (Prince George’s County police officer) after responding to a call of a fight after a party in an early November morning in 1999. Witnesses say that he had his hands up when he was shot after a brief struggle with an off-duty cop acting as security. Marion Gray-Hopkins has since been tirelessly working for police accountability and transparency and has created the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, which works directly with those affected by institutional violence and enact changes to address such violence.
  • Jaffort Smith, a 33-year-old killed by a flurry of bullets from John Corcoran, Mark Grundhauser, Jeffery Korus and Michael Tschida (St. Paul police officers) after Jaffort allegedly shot Beverly Flowers in the face and fired at police during a schizophrenic episode. Jaffort was hit with 19 bullets. Jaffort’s wife, Kay, and mother, Matilda, have been consistent in their support for other families of police victims and in their pursuit for justice for victims, as well as participating in community collectivism, such as the ‘Black Truce‘. They have constantly spoken out about how the police narrative gets ran in the media and how the community is instantly turned against the victim as being the perpetrator in their own death.
  • Phumee Lee, a 28-year-old killed by Daniel Gleason and Jordan Wild (St. Paul police officers) during a domestic dispute. There has been a public vigil organized by community activists and support coming to the Lee family from the community.
  • Marcus Golden, a 24-year-old killed by Jeremy Doverspike and Dan Peck (St. Paul police officers) in less than a minute after responding to call at a parking lot where Marcus was in his car. Marcus’ aunt, Monique Cullars-Doty has been incredibly active in community organizing since the killing of her nephew. She has actively helped create multiple Black Lives Matter organizations, Blue Lies Matter, Justice 4 Marcus Golden, and many more. Monique organized an event in February of 2016 called the Broken Hearts Rally (watch in its entirety here) to uplift victims of police executions and brutality, making space for sharing experiences, grieving, healing, and support.

When Kim Handy-Jones introduced Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s mother, she said they are now friends that call each other at any time of the night. She recalled that when she met her, she knew that she was in the presence of an “angel“, and that Valerie told her she had the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, that provides resources and support for families of victims of gun and police violence. Kim recalled telling Valerie that she had insurance and that Valerie still gave her a $500 check. Kim said “it wasn’t about the money, it was the message I received” from Valerie that was “worth more than any money“.

(click here to see the full Twitter thread)

Valerie Castile made a compassionate speech about being the change that people want to see. She spoke about how people’s misguided perceptions perpetuate racism and violence towards others and she alluded to that playing a factor in how her son was stereotyped and killed. She implored parents to educate and encourage their children and the youth and said “my momma used to always say, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’“.

Marion Gray-Hopkins spoke briefly about her son and tied it into the full spectrum of the “corrupt system“. She spoke about “being on the frontline“, having her “boots on the ground” since the year 2000 (her son’s death was in November of 1999), and that the deaths of people at the hands of the police continue to mount in staggering numbers.

We’re talking over 1,200 people per year that are being murdered by a corrupted system … this is a systemic issue. This has plagued our country for over 400 years.” – Marion Gray-Hopkins

Marion said that she has “the patience of Job” and furthered that Philando Castile’s case showed how corrupt the system is, “if anybody’s case I said was gonna be a change for us, it was gonna be him.” She said “there is no blinders when it comes to corrupt police officers” and spoke about how she once thought that her son’s death at the hands of police could never happen to her as she was raising him in a two-parent, upper middle class household and he was a full time college student and part time worker.

Marion ended by saying that all of the women had “a job to do” and that their sons, or family members, were “martyrs“.

Yolanda McNair picked up where Marion left off in saying that the parents were now “warriors” for their murdered children. She spoke about how important dedication is to their duty of providing support for other families of police victims. She said that she came straight from her job in another state to come to the banquet and hadn’t slept in over 36 hours; it’s that type of dedication of, “no matter where, no matter when, no matter how, you’ll find a way“, that she said she uses.

We didn’t ask for this, we don’t want anybody else in this. But each and every time somebody else comes, we’re there for them. We’re dedicated.” – Yolanda McNair

Yolanda spoke about her daughter being killed at a police officers house party while celebrating her birthday and said that she has “chosen to walk this path” and has created an organization called P.O.S.T. (Protect Our Stolen Treasures), of which she said, “one of the things that we have to do, is protect the reputation of those that were taken away“.

Matilda Smith was next on the podium. She told everybody that Kim Handy-Jones was “one of a kind“, an amazing person, and that when she was “broken” by the devastation of her son’s death, “Kim, Valerie Castile, and all these mothers right here, give me the strength to move on” and provide her breath when she couldn’t breathe.

After Jaffort Smith’s mother spoke, his wife, Kay took the mic and spoke about how Kim has been there for them giving them a voice and that dealing with situations of police killings are very hard to navigate through. She said “there is a lot of red tape” when it comes to knowing or doing anything while dealing with Jaffort’s death.

…we were really lost. So, there needs to be a change to the way they handle police shootings and the way the families are treated.” – Kay Smith

Kim Handy-Jones introduced Monique Cullars-Doty and talked about how Monique called her up after Cordale was killed and told her “the patterns and the practices of the St. Paul Police … she just laid it all down on the line for me and she painted the picture and it became transparent to me that these are some fools, some bullies with guns.

Kim continued by naming out a dozen or so names of community organizers that were there for her, calling her, supporting her, and organizing after Cordale’s death and after Ramsey County announced they weren’t going to charge the officers. She said that she is “blessed” to have the support of those in the room, beyond, and those from the “mother’s table“.

Monique spoke briefly about her nephew’s story of being killed and touched on how the media reverberates the police stories and stressed the need for good investigative journalism.

My nephew, was killed by St. Paul Police officers Jeremy Doverspike and Dan Peck. He had a gun planted on him by Detective Sheila Lambie and that was the beginning of all the lies … we do know that what happened was an officer slipped on ice and his gun went off, then they started shooting and that’s why my nephew is dead.” – Monique Cullars-Doty

In perhaps one of the most emotionally gripping speeches, Pang Yang, Phumee Lee’s mother spoke at length about the effects of her son’s death, how she has been told to “stay inside“, been bribed by elders in the community, and been silenced. Pang spoke in Hmong and community organizer and friend of Phumee Lee, Thao Xiong translated for Pang.

Pang cried and spoke about feeling comfortable and loved from the families and the community in the room and said that was one of the first times since the incident that took her son that she’d felt that way. At the end of her speech, she was enveloped in long, caring hugs by dozens of people.

Below, watch the moms, aunts, and wives of police victims speak about their stolen loved one and share stories of camaraderie and collective empowerment.

Before the families spoke, Dr. Rev. Brian Herron gave an impassioned keynote speech despite saying it was “bitter sweet” because he felt β€œbroken hearted” saying, β€œI am a person that feels people’s pain”, alluding to the heavy emotional grief felt throughout the room.

In the introduction to Dr. Rev. Brian Herron, Levy-Pounds cited Herron’s recent involvement in local protest movements such as the β€œ4th Precinct 18 day occupation in response to the police killing of Jamar Clark, an unarmed Black man, as well as the occupation of the Governor’s mansion after the police killing of Philando Castille.”

Herron spoke about disparities throughout institutional systems from Wall Street to the prisons to employment, education and more.

β€œAmerica was founded on a lie and on violence and after they wrote the constitution and rang the liberty bell, a fissure, a deep crack, a deep divide, cut through the steel of the bell because it was all a lie.” – Dr. Rev. Brian Herron

Dr. Herron spoke about white supremacy and how humanity must unite to defeat the hate. He called out the churches to do more to create a better community, saying:

Churches need to come out. Pastors need to come outside of the churches. One of the things we’re gonna have to decide is, are we going to be chaplains to the empire or are we going to be the prophets of resistance?” – Dr. Rev. Brian Herron

Herron said that Kim Handy-Jones has β€œturned her pain into purpose and she is now on a crusade for justice, calling out the injustice and calling people to wake up.” Herron finished his twenty minute speech by continuing his calls of standing together to keep building a movement of justice. Watch the keynote speech below.

During the middle portion of the banquet, several community organizers spoke about a myriad of issues in regards to police violence, mental crisis interventions, policy change, building movements, upcoming events, other cases of police killings, and much more.

Watch the banquet below.

The banquet was a powerful show of strength and love through adversity. These families impacted by police violence have built community and the continual work they put forth seeking justice and help for others has already contributed dynamic positive results. Kim Handy-Jones, along with the others, provide shining lights in the darkness of trials and tribulations.

I just thank God for you all. I am the woman I am today because of you all. I have the fight in me today because of you all. I can still stand because of you all. But most of all, because of God, because he gave it to you all and you were smart enough to give it back to me. And that’s what I call ‘raising a village’.” – Kim Handy-Jones

Unicorn Riot Coverage Surrounding Cordale Handy:

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to help sustain our horizontally-organized, non-profit media organization:
More from Unicorn Riot πŸ¦„