Three Mothers of the Movement — Gwen Carr, Maria Hamilton, and Geneva Reed-Veel — shared their experiences, critiqued the criminal justice system, and pledged their support for Hilary Clinton Monday at N.C. Central University’s School of Law. Dozens of students and faculty members packed the Great Hall to hear the mothers, each of whom lost a child after confrontations with the police.
“We have many programs in this room but I can tell you as a mother this one touches me deeply,” said School of Law Dean Phyliss Craig-Taylor in her opening remarks.
Hamilton’s son Dontre Hamilton, 31, was shot and killed in Red Arrow Park by Milwaukee police officer Christoper Manney in 2014. Manney was fired, but there was no indictment for the shooting.
Carr’s son Eric Garner, 43, was fatally choked by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014. Pantaleo was suspended, but there was no indictment. Garner had been selling loose cigarettes on the Staten Island sidewalk.
Reed-Veel’s daughter Sandra Bland, 28, was found dead in her cell three days after a traffic stop arrest by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia in 2014, still no indictment.
“It’s an honor to be here in front of all of you young people that are striving for information to provide a better life for yourself and for others,” Hamilton said. “We can change the narrative of how we’re being policed, how the politicians are writing laws that are governing us … and our communities.”
The discussion lasted just over an hour. The mothers expressed their outrage over policing practices and the failure of the legal system to indict police for unwarranted killings. Each said that it’s important for students to vote; each said they endorse Hilary Clinton for president.
“It was just a news article for most people but that’s my life,” Carr said, recalling the events surrounding the shooting of her son.
“I just decided I have to channel my anger, compose my outrage and focus on the bigger picture. We have to connect so that we can select the next president of the U.S.,” she said.
Nicole Little, Student Bar Association president, asked audience members to open their hearts and minds.
“As students of the law it is important for us to realize what currently is going on outside of the walls and doors of this building,” she said. “One day we’ll have to take what we’re learning in the classroom and implement it … to affect change and impact the world.”
But it was Bland’s mom who set the tone for how the discussion would unwind itself, leaving an alarming reminder to the audience.
“We’re dealing with a broken criminal justice system, it’s criminal what’s going on in the criminal justice system,” she said.
“Whatever your area, whatever your thing is that you do, do that so that we don’t have another Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, or Dontre Hamilton.”
Carr and Reed-Veel also touched on voting matters and how important it is to be socially aware.
Carr told students that their vote will make a difference, while Reel-Veel said that more than a dozen states are systematically trying to restrict the ability of minorities to vote.
“When you begin to start talking about taking the rights away that folks died for … you’re kidding me,” said Reel-Veel. “If your vote didn’t matter why is everybody trying to stop it?”
After the presentations, Rev. Curtis Gatewood, field director of N.C. NAACP, said that blacks in America have been subjected to a form of “terrorism .. since we have been here.” He suggested that the presidential candidates need to consider additional issues facing the black community, including “economic reciprocity” and “reparations.” “These need to be part of the agenda,” he said.
Reed-Veel left the audience with this final message:
“This is not a game, this is serious business. This is not a reality show. This is real so when the cameras are gone. This is our real life,” said Reed-Veel. “None of us would have been out here on this trail if it weren’t for the death of our children.”