In 1926 Dr. Carter G. Woodson was victorious in a hard-won fight to center the lives, contributions, and ongoing struggles of Black people in the United States, establishing Black History Week. In 1969, Black students at Kent State University claimed the entire month of February, advancing an agenda of Black power. Perhaps Associate Pastor George Van Alstine and congregants of Altadena Baptist Church missed this history, never read Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro, and failed to understand Zora Neale Hurston’s admonition that “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” For some ungodly reason, the church chose to honor District Attorney Jackie Lacey this past Sunday, February 17 for their 35thAnnual Black History Month program. The same DA Lacey who has been charged with prosecuting crimes in the County of Los Angeles since January 2012, over which time more than 450 killings of community members by police have occurred and only one prosecution of an officer has been filed. It is imperative that we remember that each of these 450 “cases” are real people: sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and community members. When people are murdered by police, it leaves unimaginable pain for the hearts of their loved ones…especially their mothers. On Sunday evening, a cadre of five mothers, family members and supporters refused to allow Lacey to smile, wave, invoke God, and dishonor the Spirits of their slain children. They confronted her in, what may be, the most appropriate of all places, church.
#WakieshaWilson is Los Angeles’ own #SandraBland, a Black woman who was arrested for a minor crime and held in LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center. Like most of our people, Wakiesha was not flush with cash; rather than giving a bail bondsman money that would never be returned, she assured her family that she could wait until her arraignment a few days later when she was sure she would be released on her own recognizance. Her mother, Lisa Hines, already anxious because she hadn’t heard back from her daughter on Easter Sunday, (which was also the birthday of her favorite aunt, Sheila Hines-Brim), waited in court that entire Tuesday. Wakiesha never appeared. Frantically, her mother spent the remainder of the day, and into Wednesday evening trying to locate her daughter. Finally, she was connected with the Coroner who confirmed her greatest fear, that Wakiesha was dead…and had been dead for nearly four days. No one bothered to notify her. No one offered condolences. For almost three years her family, supported by Black Lives Matter, has been struggling for justice in her name. We know that it is impossible for Wakiesha to have hung herself in a jail cell from a phone booth that sits two feet from the floor, with a cord that is 11-inches long, then move her own body to the middle of the cell postmortem. We know that it says something when the guard charged with her oversight is fired. We know that there is no explanation other than cover-up, when 22-minutes of surveillance videotape is missing, including the part where Wakiesha allegedly kills herself. We also know that it is Jackie Lacey’s job to prosecute all of those involved in Wakiesha’s murder.
It is Lacey’s job to prosecute the police who murdered #EricRivera, a 20-year-old Latino and Egyptian young man who was armed with no more than a neon green water pistol on a hot summer day. It was also Lacey’s job to prosecute the Torrance officers who murdered 20-year-old #ChristopherDeAndreMitchell as he slept in a car in a parking lot, just weeks before this last Christmas holiday. And it was the job of Jackie Lacey to prosecute the murderers of Donte Jordan, a father killed with two bullets to the back in Long Beach in 2014. And then there is #JohnHorton… beaten to death inside Men’s Central Jail; the Coroner’s report confirms that John’s liver, kidneys, spleen, and ribs were all busted; he had a flashlight imprint in his skull. For nearly ten years now, his mother, Helen Jones, has been trying to win justice for him. Still no answers and no prosecution. The DA hasn’t challenged the Sheriff’s ridiculous assertion that John committed suicide.
On Sunday night, though, the mamas assembled, embraced each other, prepared, and prayed about an hour before the church program was to start. They arrived at Altadena Baptist and sprinkled around the church, taking their seats in pews, calling upon the Spirits of their children, their Ancestors, and the Creator. A few organizers were present to provide moral support and to record. They swayed to the music and sang along with the church hymns. A short, older, White woman, with red glasses, approached the microphone and offered a glowing introduction about a kind, capable, and God-fearing Jackie Lacey that belied her history of allowing police to get away with murder. As Lacey approached the pulpit in an expensive-looking, tailored, peach suit, Black Lives Matter-Pasadena lead, Jasmine Richards Abdullah stood up and belted out, “We are soldiers in the army. We have to fight although we have to die. We got hold up the blood-stained banner. We got to hold it up until we die.” The mothers slightly revised the words to the classic hymn, “We are mothers…” The mamas began to file down the aisle, led by Sheila Hines-Brim, with others following. With a Spirit that overflowed, words poured out, telling the stories of their murdered children, reminding Jackie of her duty to bring justice. Sister Sheila and Jackie locked eyes, reminding the DA that these mamas had power, that their children had power, that Spirit had power. The choir began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” Then chaos ensued. Churchgoers, peeved that their perfectly planned program had been disrupted, forgot where they were; they began cussing, challenging, and shoving the mamas. With no shame, these “Christians” called upon Lacey’s security detail (LA County Sheriff) to toss the mamas out, to traumatize them – again. The mamas were relentless; filled with Spiritual energy, they continued to call on the names of their children. They chanted with all of their righteous indignation. The church refused to hear them in that moment, but those names will follow them and haunt them.
Many of these mamas are the ones who have been circled-up outside Jackie Lacey’s office every Wednesday afternoon for the last 72 weeks. They are undoubtedly Divinely guided. Sunday was another step towards justice for them and for us. As Jackie Lacey parades around with her hand out for votes and campaign contributions, she will not do so unchallenged. There is a movement to hold her accountable. There is Spirit that will continue to whisper to her conscience. And then there are names…450 of them…chalked into the steps of her office and onto the front walkway of her home. It is still Black History Month; Jackie Lacey still has a choice…to honor the legacies and work of those who came before her, who made her position possible, or to betray them…and bear the consequences.
Against LAPD Officer Luke Liu who murdered Francisco Garcia in San Pedro by shooting into a moving car outside a 7-Eleven.