Family members of Alfred Wright, Jack Roberson, Keaton Otis, Kendrick Johnson, Nathaniel Lee III and Henry Glover all have one thing in common: they are seeking justice in the deaths of their loved ones and vow not to stop until they achieve their goal. They are determined to tell their stories so that the nation can come to grips with the fact that these murders emerge out of a climate as during segregation when there existed a license to kill Black people.
Alongside The SpiritHouse Project, on Tuesday, April 22nd at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street, SW at 1:00 p.m. these courageous women intend to break the silence on these 21st century anti-Black hate crimes that police, vigilantes and security guards commit on a daily basis. This is a national epidemic that occurs throughout the United States.
According to Ruby Sales, a Civil Rights Veteran and founder and Director of the SpiritHouse Project, the SpiritHouse Project is organizing this first landmark grassroots event of the 21st century where ordinary people stand and speak as a community about an issue that binds them together in a common struggle. They will be the heart and soul of a press conference that begins at 1:00 p.m.
The press conference will be followed by a SpiritHouse Project intergenerational teach-in with participants of all colors. Facilitators will work with groups and share how to interact with police if stopped and what to do in people’s quest for justice should a loved one die suspiciously.
The day will end with a worship service that begins as 7 p.m. followed by a candlelight vigil, where the names and faces of the many victims who have died will be lifted up. Dr. Susan K. Smith, the Gordon Cosby Fellow at the SpiritHouse Project will preach and Rev. Dr. Flora Wilson Bridges will officiate.
With the exception of Alfred Wright where the investigation into his death continues – all deaths of those mentioned have been ruled “suspicious.” They happened at the hands of white people – some law enforcement, some not. None of the assailants have yet been held accountable.
In the case of Lee, who was allegedly shot and killed by two white felons on Good Friday in 2006, neither accused shooter ever had to stand trial for the crime. In the case of Glover, shot by police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and later burned to death in a car, the fire allegedly set by yet another police officer, both men have gotten off. The federal murder conviction of one officer was overturned, and he will not have to have another trial; the officer accused of starting the fire has escaped having to face trial as well. (http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/03/in_henry_glover_death_attorney.html)
Wright’s body was found in Texas a short distance from a convenience store where he had gone to seek a ride, as his truck had broken down. His body was mutilated – eyes gouged out, tongue cut out, and an ear cut off, according to his father. (http://forwardtimesonline.com/2013/index.php/national-news/item/1088-keeping-the-pressure-on-family-of-alfred-wright-continues-pursuit-of-justice) (Otis was shot at 32 times by police; 23 bullets hit his body, according to family members. (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/06/post_20.html)
Although in some cases, police have alleged that the victims were armed, the fact is that most were not. Even when victims clearly were not armed, police (or vigilantes) claimed that they shot and killed them because they were “in fear for their lives.”
It is because of the rise of these suspicious deaths that the SpiritHouse Project is working to empower and educate the families as they seek justice and answers.
One of the main purposes of the day-long event, says Ruby Sales, is to motivate people and encourage them to leave their fear behind, as well as their discouragement as they fight for justice and answers with very little support and even fewer resources. It is the day that these family members and SpiritHouse will pull the veil of silence off of this pernicious evil and call on America to face this national cancer that threatens the security of African Americans while unraveling the threads of democracy. In her speeches on this subject, Sales states that it is not a Black problem; it is an American problem that contaminates all of us.
“Movement work is hard,” said Sales, “and change doesn’t come easily. We all know that quote, ‘power concedes nothing without a struggle.’ Because fighting against power is intimidating, many, too many, people give up. We want to teach these grieving relatives that giving up is not an option. What we are seeing is state-sanctioned murders – as with lynching from the late 19thwell into the 20th century …and it’s not acceptable. It’s not moral, it’s not ethical …and this nation needs to do something to stop what is going on.”
Many of the mothers, grandmothers and sisters whom Sales has interviewed have lifted up the name of Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, who refused to be silent and who made the nation see the mutilated body of her son in his casket. They gain strength to move ahead as they remember her courage, Sales said.
For more information about the April 22nd event, please visit the Spirithouse Project’s website, www.spirithouseproject.org, and/or call Ruby Sales at (404) 228-7794.