Ashley Allison, host of Pod for the Cause, interviews Marion Gray-Hopkins, executive director of Coalition of Concerned Mothers and Rhanda Dormeus, treasurer of Coalition of Concerned Mothers on how they turned their tragedy into advocacy. Both Gray-Hopkins and Dormeus lost their child at the hands of police violence.
S01 E01: A Mother’s Day Tribute
[Music 00:00 – 00:12]
Ashley: Welcome to Pod for the Cause – the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights challenges of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington, D.C., joined today with the Pod Squad: Arisha Hatch, Managing Director of Campaigns for Color Of Change, and Gabby Seay, Political Director, 1199SEIU.
We just celebrated Mother’s Day. Dear mama, you are appreciated. Fawn Allison, shout out to my mama. This is a serious conversation, though, that we’re gonna have today. We just celebrated Mother’s Day, but the reality is that for a lotta mothers, they celebrated it despite having lost a child. There have been movements coming, like Black Lives Matter, but there’s also a movement called Mothers of the Movement, and they are the mothers of women whose child has been either killed by police violence, killed from other forms of violence, but killed because they wore black and brown and skin.
We wanna have a conversation today, one, about how we love our moms, how they are – particularly moms of color – are the backbone of this country, but what it must be like. I’m not a mom. None of us here are moms, but what it must be like to have to carry the burden of being a mother of the movement. Let’s start with you, Arisha. We’ll start talking about black moms because Mother of the Movement – a lotta the moms that are members of there are black mothers.
When you think about doing the organizing work that you do, why do you feel like an effort like Mothers of the Movement is so significant and their voices must be center in the conversation?
Arisha: I think it’s so important, and incredibly inspiring, that despite all of the trauma that these women have experienced, the grief that they are in the midst of, that they have somehow come together to organize for something more. At Color Of Change, we spend a lot of time providing rapid response work in these moments, when we see a video on Twitter, on Instagram, or Facebook – part of Color Of Change’s role is to give our members across the country something strategic to do in an effort for justice for whoever is the victim in this case.
That’s necessary in part because the families that are going through this are in shock and in grief, and sometimes don’t have the capacity in that moment to be advocates for themselves, and for their families, and for their loved ones that have just been killed, or injured, or hurt. I think it is incredibly inspiring – I don’t have a child. I can’t imagine losing a child, but it’s been incredibly inspiring to see these women come together to speak out.
They were at the Democratic National Convention a few years ago. Several of them have run for office, some successfully, others not so successfully, but it’s just beautiful to see them making an effort out of so much ugliness and despair, but trying to actually change this for other black women. I think they’re in it for other black women, not wanting them to experience the same thing that they’ve had to go through.
Ashley: Gabby, what do you think about all of this, and having to carry the sorrow of losing a child, and then have to carry the movement on your back in addition?
Gabby: It’s really been the story of black women since we’ve been in America, and a lot of women of color, in that you are providing your first service to the people who you have birthed, making sure they’re okay, then you’re taking care of other people’s children, and making sure they’re okay, and then you have a whole world that looks to you – and still to this day, black women are constantly looked at as nurturers whether that’s our role or not in workplaces, even in friend groups. You’re always the person that cooks for everybody, makes everybody feel good, and can give ‘em – and we’ve even seen this in pop culture, black women are always the wise best friend in whatever movie we have going on.
I think this duality that mothers have to play of providing for their first first, and then for everyone else – it’s not new, but I think it’s incredibly courageous to be able to take action in moments like this, and not recoil, and not say, “I’m just done living life,” but to pick up and fight over and over again for everybody else’s children – it’s incredibly courageous. It’s incredibly inspiring. I think we have to do everything we can to not only support this mothers movement, but to make sure more people – this is the one we don’t wanna grow, right?
Gabby: We have to do everything we can to stop it from growing.
Ashley: The root of this, quite honestly, is violence. It’s because people have died, largely at the hands of police violence, but whenever we start to talk about police violence, we also – the Black Lives Matter movement – people’s like, “Yeah, black lives do matter, but then black people kill black people.” What do you say to people who try and conflate those conversations?
Gabby: I want them to point me to a black person that has killed someone and not been punished for it, who wasn’t a police officer. The main difference is that most commit crimes against other people like themselves. White people largely commit violence against other white people. Black people largely commit violence against other black people because it’s intimate. Most violence is intimate.
Black people – as evidenced by our criminal justice system – brown people, poor people, as evidenced by our criminal justice system, are frequently punished for the crimes they commit and the crimes that they don’t commit. The difference between what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements that seek justice is that largely the perpetrators aren’t punished. They’re not even tried. They are presumed innocent.
This applies to police violence, but also the violence that we see happening at the border, in detention centers, for folks that are seeking asylum – this violence that is happening against those who are most vulnerable, with no repercussions, is the very basis of our movement because black people, brown people, poor people are punished when they commit crimes.
Ashley: I wanna talk a little bit about that because there is this effort to keep this black and brown divide. Black people can’t support immigration, immigrants and Latino community can’t support criminal justice reform, when the reality is that it is all a system that is hurting black and brown bodies, and the violence that we actually see that is happening on the borders with mothers – we saw mothers being separated from their children in slavery.
We are still seeing the aftereffects of that in this present day in the black community. Now we’re seeing mothers and fathers being separated from their children as they are running from violence to save their children, and we’re seeing them being separated at the border. Arisha, what are the similarities and the threads in all of the tragedy? How can we unify as a black and brown community to seek change?
Arisha: A lot of what we’re seeing has gotten really – I’m really into The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s gotten really Handmaid’s Tale, and the world – I think, as we think about black and brown communities, we all face very similar struggles in a culture that, really, sets up fear of black people and brown people. There’s a lot of ways in which media, in which other systems, reinforce that we should be feared, that reinforce that we shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt, all sort of things.
I think a lot of the root causes of the violence that we see in our community really come back to having economic opportunity, having the ability to raise your family in a safe environment, being able to go out and get a job to find a purpose beyond violence to be invested in from pre-K on. One of the things that we should all be fighting for is this investment in our communities beyond what we’re seeing now.
Ashley: There’s multiple layers of policies that we can talk about. We see a lotta young people, particularly people of color, young millennials, who are getting involved in the movement for black lives. We see the DREAMers, who are getting involved around immigration reform. I know your organization, Color Of Change, was involved with the last Mother’s Day, baby mama – or not baby mama – mamas bailout. We’ve seen moms in the Million Moms March. What are some of the policies that you think we should be advocating for to find basic pathways to – as you said, Gabby, earlier – to make sure that this club, this Mothers of the Movement club, do not expand. The list is long.
Gabby: Yeah, it’s so long, and it’s overwhelming, and I think that’s a lotta times what intimidates people from taking on a particular issue. The most fundamental thing is the idea of respectability. Mothers are our first teachers in most situations, and I’m sure we all remember lessons that our mothers taught us about how we should dress, or act, or speak, or whatnot. I really think that we have to teach young black kids first just to love themselves, and to be themselves – that’s one part of it.
On the policy side, I think one, we have to create the systems that allow young, black kids to be able to do that. We criminalize young people at such a early age in schools and create the expectation that they are gonna be a part of this system that the earliest things that we can do in our education system – I just read this article that talked about the remarkable effects of not sending kids to detention, but to meditation. Like, duh.
If you treat a child and teach them to be in prison if they have even the most minor infractions – or recently we saw the young man in southern Florida that was completely brutalized by police officers. He wasn’t resisting. The kid looked like he was 90 pounds, and there are these big, buff police officers bodyslamming him, bloodying up his face for having a cellphone, or picking up a cellphone.
I think if we wanna start, we have to start in schools, and we have to change this tendency of teaching certain groups of kids, conditioning them to be a part of the criminal justice system, and that’s so much of what our education system does to kids, particularly poor kids and kids of color.
Arisha: I think there’s a list of policies. We can talk about ending mass incarceration, we can talk about education reform, we can talk about actually having clean water as being a part of –
Gabby: Healthy food that they –
Arisha: – developmental behavior. Yeah, but I also think there’s this cultural thing around masculinity that is also very much connected to a lotta the violence that we’re seeing from the state and within our own communities. It’s toxic to our way of being, and so I actually think beginning – and we’ve started to have this conversation about what is the appropriate way to respond when someone upsets you or triggers you. I’m saying this to an officer, not necessarily to a young, black boy. How do you take a breath and be like, “Okay, this is a taking me back to a place where I feel threatened. I am not gonna respond by dragging this little girl out of the classroom.”
Ashley: I do wanna say, though, it feels unfair, quite honestly. Communities of color have to endure the pain to then persuade policymakers for change. I think of Bryan Stevenson and the work that he’s doing at the Equal Justice Initiative. He felt like it was necessary to catalogue the lynchings of people in the South so we never forgot.
When you think about having – and he compared it to Germany, and how they make sure that you never forget the Holocaust – why do we have to have a history of lynching? Why, when we are senior citizens – well, sadly we have to have a museum of police killings. Why does so much pain have to be endured? Why will we have to have a museum of this child never was reunited with their family after being separated at the border? That is the history of our country, but it’s also history being written right now. Why do people of color always have to endure so much pain? What do policymakers need to hear to say, “Enough is enough?” Can we get a break? I could just stop on that.
Arisha: It’s hard, and we talk about this a lot in organizing. Color Of Change has actually done a lot around joy, and how we start with joy ‘cause so many times, if you’re a organizer, you are often taught to tell your personal story by having a challenge, and choice, and a outcome. You’re taught to think about some deep, traumatic experience that propelled you into action, and that’s how you build relationships with people. It’s true. It’s an effective methodology, telling your story, but what it does for people of color is forces us to continue to renew the pain in order to make a personal connection to other folks. If you don’t have that, you’re often seen as the exception to the rule.
I think that it is something that folks in power have conditioned our society to do, like the theory of scarcity when it comes to fundraising. If we tell folks there’s not enough money for us to do all the things you care about, and tell them you have to fight for scraps, then it doesn’t happen. I think it’s the same here that you know what, we’re only gonna act if it’s enough of a tragedy for this to happen, and I don’t –
Ashley: That’s messed up.
Arisha: It’s really messed up. I think about the shooting that happened at the mosque in New Zealand, and within – what was it? – 72 hour – it was a couple of days –
Ashley: I know.
Arisha: They changed their gun laws, and we saw the prime minister act with such a level of compassion. I’ve never seen any president, even Barack Obama, be able to spring into action, and have that level of empathy and action that changed the trajectory. I can’t even fathom what it will take because we’ve already gone through so much as a nation in many of our communities. I don’t know. That’s a scary question.
Gabby: I do think we have to let go. It is unfair. It’s unfair that we have to spend our time advocating for this. It’s unfair that we have to walk through the world with a sense of fear about what could happen to us, with the fear that even if something did happen to us, there wouldn’t be justice for our families. All of this is unfair.
I’m not gonna hold my breath waiting for other people to try to solve this problem. I just hold my breath waiting for pigs to fly, waiting for allies to be the people that change people’s mind around race. I do think a lot of organizing is not only about telling your story, but re-centering in your personal purpose.
I don’t know how much focusing on the unfairness, or the scarcity, or our victimhood moves us forward. The job of mothers is to make the world better for their children. Our job as a generation is to make the world better for the next generation as our ancestors did and sacrificed. I try to focus less on the unfairness of it all, and really try to focus my energy on, okay, how do we move this forward, how do we shift culture, in a way.
Ashley: I wanna do something real quick. You talked a lot about personal stories. I don’t know where I would be – we’re celebrating – this episode is a tribute to all the moms out here, especially those who have lost a child. I don’t know where I would be without my mom, so I wanna tell my personal story about my mom, and I challenge you each – we don’t have to tell the whole story from birth to now, but I just wanna wrap up our segment on this and tell a story of joy.
I wanna tell a story of how my mom – the reason why I do the work I do is because my mom took me to the polls every time she went to go vote, and showed me how she participated in civic engagement. She would take me – I would be bored and not understanding what was going on, but she would take me to the forums where advocates would be talking about what we needed to be doing in little, old Youngstown, Ohio to try and improve our community. She would take me to do community service.
As we just celebrated Mother’s Day of 2019, I just wanna say thank you to Fawn Allison, my mom, for being a part of my personal story and bringing joy into my life to know how we can do this work. I offer you a chance to also say – tell a story about your mom and how she maybe introduced you into political activism, or just one thing she did to make you be who you are in this movement today. Arisha, you wanna start?
Arisha: My mom, Trish Hatch, is just the best person in the world. She is a nice person. I wouldn’t necessarily have described her as political growing up. I wouldn’t have described myself as political growing up, but she was our biggest advocate. She recently retired, but was an elementary school teacher, and one of the things I remember – we moved from Texas to California when I was 10. In California you had to take the exam or whatever the state exam, and it determined if you were gonna be put into the honors track or the gifted and talented track – GATE, they called it.
I remember I moved in fourth grade, I took the test, and I scored 99th percentile in everything. When I was in Texas, I was already on the gifted and talented track, but now in California I was having to retest. We got the test results back, everybody was great, my mom was expecting – she was also a teacher in a similar school district, expected to me to be moved into this lane. I think at the time we got an extra field trip and that’s all I was focused on. I just wanna go to the Museum of Tolerance. That’s what the gifted and talented kids got to do.
For whatever reason, the teacher decided actually, we’re not sure about Arisha’s test results. We wanna test her again.
Arisha: To see if her scores improved. Had my mom not been a teacher, she wouldn’t have known that you can’t go from 99 to 100, that 99th percentile’s the top, but because she knew that, she was able to intervene and advocate for me in a way that, I think, other parents couldn’t have. It got me to where I needed to be. That’s what I think about. My mom – I wouldn’t call her political, but she was an advocate.
Ashley: What about you, Gab?
Gabby: My mom, Nancy Myrtle Parker-Seay – Doctor Nancy ‘cause she worked very hard for a PhD – once she got us all through college, she went and got her PhD. My mom is the smartest person I know. She always has been. She didn’t need a PhD to prove that.
When my parents got married, they made a commitment to live off of my father’s salary, and so he was a pipe fitter and a plumber, worked at factories. When our family moved from Alabama to Toledo, they were living off of my father’s salary, and it was unemployment then ‘cause he had gotten laid off in Reagan’s economy.
We moved to a neighborhood, wasn’t the greatest neighborhood. It was a very poor Polish neighborhood. We were one of the few black folks there, and at the time it was three of us. We were all school-aged, and my mom wasn’t pregnant yet with my sister – no, she was. It was four of us, actually. She just had my little sister. We went into this neighborhood, and my mom went to the neighborhood school, and asked to meet with the principal. We’re all there with her, too ‘cause she wasn’t having a babysitter.
She’s asking the principal questions about the curriculum, about the teacher credentials, all that. He was offended. He was so offended that my mom had the audacity to question him. He actually kicked us out of his office.
Ashley: You kidding me?
Gabby: Yeah, he kicked her out of the office for challenging him ‘cause what he saw was a young, poor, black mother. It was not her place, her right to do that, and so she was like, “Oh, I’m absolutely not sending my children here.” She decided to homeschool three of us. My older brother was homeschooled until high school, my older sister a little bit in between junior high and high school, and me until sixth grade.
The patience, the courage, the creativity that it takes to homeschool three young children in the early ‘90s before internet – I don’t even know how she figured out homeschooling was a thing. Who knew that? But she did, and what it did was made us really critical thinkers at a early age, and we questioned everything, and I think that my mom wasn’t particularly political either.
We were very active, and did a lot of service, and things like that, but we were taught to think, and we were taught to advocate, and we were taught to fight, and we were taught that there is a world beyond the poor Polish neighborhood that we grew up in Toledo, Ohio. You just need a mom who believes that you can be more than what your surroundings are, and that’s what she was.
Ashley: Thanks again to Arisha Hatch from Color Of Change and Gabby Seay from 1199SEIU. Coming up on Pod for the Cause, we’re honoring mothers who’ve lost their children to police violence. Don’t go anywhere.
[Music 19:39 – 20:05]
Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. In honor of Mother’s Day, we wanna now shift gears and talk to mothers who have turned their tragedy into advocacy. We just celebrated Mother’s Day, and for many mothers in the country, it’s a yearly reminder that something was stolen from them: their child. Today I have two guests, Marion Gray-Hopkins, Executive Director and President, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Executive for Families United for Justice, and the President/Executive Director of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, and most importantly, the late mother of Gary Hopkins Jr. Rhanda Dormeus, Treasurer of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers and the mother of the late Korryn Gaines.
I have to say, when I was preparing for this show, I just said I really wish I didn’t have to do it. I wish I didn’t have to do this interview. I wish I didn’t have to meet you all under this circumstance. I wish you didn’t have to experience the pain and the burden of now becoming an advocate for your slain children and for your community, but here we are, and we need to have this conversation, and your story needs to be heard.
Marion, you were a bank executive, and on November 27th, 1999 your life changed forever. You learned your son Gary had been killed by police officers. He was at a dance. He was unarmed. He was with your friends. I know this is probably hard for you, but if you could take us back to that day, and tell us what you thought when you heard that you had lost your son.
Marion: When I first got the news, I was in fact shocked. It was disbelief because I couldn’t believe it because just 16 days earlier, I lost my husband to a very short bout with bone cancer. I thought it was a dream. I absolutely did, but I later learned that it was, in fact, real.
Ashley: How were you able to pull yourself in that moment? We talked about it in our earlier segment, how women of color, how black women, how brown women have to carry this burden so often. How were you able to find the strength from just losing your husband to losing your son, respond in this moment of tragedy for your family?
Marion: I have to be transparent and say, not at that moment was I able to pull it together.
Ashley: Nor should you have to.
Marion: It was very, very difficult, but it was one that I knew that I had to do. Once I got myself up off the floor, and got myself together, I said that there was no way I was gonna allow Gary’s death to be in vain, and that as a mother, I had to do something. From there, that’s when my fight began.
Ashley: I wanna talk about that fight, but for a second, Rhanda, I wanna come to you. Your daughter, Korryn, and your grandson – her son, Kodi – Korryn was killed on August 1st, 2016, and her son Kodi was injured in the same incident. We know that police violence takes many different forms, but in this case, one was killed and one was injured. Can you tell me – you learned that something was happening at your daughter’s house and you started to make your way over there. What happened when you got to her home?
Rhanda: When I got my daughter’s area where she lived at, in her development, at first I was denied access.
Ashley: Who were you denied access by?
Rhanda: By a gentleman who claimed to be the behind-the-scenes negotiator, which I found out later was totally untrue, but eventually I was allowed in, after some persuasive and letting ‘em know that I needed to be there. It was not only myself. I had about seven other family members that wound up showing up too. Immediately upon getting there, I called her therapist, and had her on the phone to speak with the so-called behind-the-scenes negotiator, and he refused to speak to her.
He said he would let me know when he needed to speak with her, but I thought it was of great urgency that he should speak with her to learn about Korryn and what was going on with Korryn. She was suffering with depression, but it was just nothing as far as them wanting to figure out a way to just get this situation under control without the outcome that occurred.
Ashley: You – beyond being her mother, and knowing what’s best for her – you also practice nursing.
Rhanda: Yes, I was a registered nurse.
Ashley: You had some medical experience to provide some guidance.
Rhanda: I actually worked for a psych unit, so I did have the understanding of dealing with somebody that may have been depressed, or maybe in crisis, but that was never an interest of theirs.
Ashley: So often we know – we’ll talk about this in a little bit – that mental illness plays a role in interactions with law enforcement, and unfortunately in this instance, the outcome was deadly.
Rhanda: Yes it was.
Ashley: You talked about your pain, Marion, and how you couldn’t let Gary’s death go without purpose. Can you talk about why you think it’s so important for Gary’s story to live on day after day?
Marion: I think it’s important because the world needs to know that it’s just not an isolated incident. As we know, Gary’s murder – that I call it – not a killing, but a murder – took place almost 20 years ago, coming up this November 27th. If we don’t speak about it, and we sit silent, we are consenting to the status quo. My voice has to be heard. Other mothers across this country that have been impacted, their voice needs to be heard so that people know it’s not isolated, that change needs to take place, and that we’re going to stand up, we’re going to fight back, and we’re gonna be the ones out in front to ensure that change comes.
Ashley: Most recently, a lotta police killings have been seen on social media, captured, but in 1999 smart phones weren’t out. I was still in high school, so smart phones weren’t out, Facebook wasn’t, so the opportunity to really tell that story wasn’t available for you. There was traditional media, but did the community come and surround you, support you? Was the coverage that needed to be had for Gary’s murder – did that happen? What was it like in 1999 for someone who experienced police violence compared to what it’s like now when viral videos go?
Marion: Back then – you were absolutely correct. There was no media back then. It wasn’t any cameras, cellphones with video – there was none of that, but I wanna step back a little bit ‘cause I don’t think I shared enough about Gary’s story and what actually happened.
That morning, Gary came into my room and he had a conversation with me, and the conversation went something like this: he says, “Mom, you just don’t understand.” He says, “My dad’s gone. He wasn’t just my dad, he was my best friend.” And he says – he was working a part time job – Gary was a full time college student, he was a mentor to his peer group, and he says, “I’m working my part time job. My supervisors know that I’m struggling with dad’s death.” He says, “I’m going to this dance tonight that my supervisor invited me to,” which was gonna be held at the local fire station.
He says, “You should come and go,” and of course I said, “Absolutely not. I’m not gonna go,” even though I probably could’ve used some music ‘cause I was still struggling from my husband’s death just 16 days earlier. He says, “I’m gonna invite my friend and some of my cousins to go to this dance, and I’m gonna wear my dad’s brand new lizard shoes. I’m gonna be decked out in dad’s clothes, but I need a shirt, so can you give me your card.”
Gary went to that dance that night and had every right to be at that dance with his friends and with his cousins, and there was a verbal altercation between one of Gary’s friends and another partygoer. When it was over, I think they were still exchanging some words, and Gary always taking the lead, was the peacemaker that night. He got everybody into their respective cars, and he’s sitting on the ledge of the car, which was the lead vehicle – so he’s sitting on the ledge of the car, making sure everybody’s still in place, and when a police officer comes and blocks them from exiting.
He gets out of his patrol car – and this is occurring still today, 20 years later, and well before Gary – but he gets out of his patrol car with his gun already drawn, and he comes up to the car where Gary’s sitting, he’s looking back, making sure everybody’s still in place, he puts that cold gun to Gary’s head – ‘cause it’s November, it’s really cold – in the state of Maryland. He puts that gun to Gary’s temple, and he pulls him off the car by the collar of his shirt –
Ashley: Gary’s just sitting there.
Marion: He’s sitting there. He comes up, he puts the gun to his head, and Gary’s moving about, trying to get this gun away from his head, and when he pulled him, Gary stumbles backwards, when a second officer comes and makes one gunshot wound to Gary’s chest, killing him. As you mentioned, there was no video cameras, there was no tapes, there was none of that, but there were many witnesses that was on the scene that night. That’s where we had to get to the media to be able to share our narrative because the narrative, then, as it is today is that the officers get that first stab at what the narrative is, and they come up with all of their stories, and then we’re backpedaling to tell ours.
Our media coverage came from witnesses that were on the scene that night, and it came from the police office, from their standpoint. That’s what we were dealing with, and I wanted to say that as far as me, I wasn’t in the movement back then. I wasn’t aware, unfortunately, of what was happening to our black and brown children, women, babies. I wasn’t aware of that, so I at that time was thinking everything was gonna go – that the system –
Ashley: You believed in the system.
Marion: I believed in the system. The system was gonna do what it was designed to do. It was gonna give me justice for Gary’s murder.
Ashley: I wanna talk about what happened, but Rhanda, also wanna give you a chance if there’s anything else you wanna share about Korryn’s story because one of the reasons why we thought it was so important to launch our podcast with this conversation is because it happens all too often. We know that over 4,200 people have been killed by police since 2015, and of that – we know the population of African-Americans in this country is about 12 percent – but of that, 26 percent of those people are black.
The Latino population is even smaller, and 19 percent of those people who were killed by police are Hispanic. The disproportionate rate of death that is happening for black and brown bodies is unfair and unjust, and what happens after the death occurs, in the courtroom, is also unfair and unjust, and I wanna talk about that, but Rhanda I did wanna give you a second, if you wanted to say anything else about the situation that happened August 1st.
Rhanda: On that day, like I stated earlier, we had multiple family members there, and all of us pled with law enforcement to at least let us address her. Like I stated, they took my phone from me immediately. They asked me –
Ashley: What was the – okay. You show up. It’s your child’s house.
Ashley: What’s the reason they give you for taking your phone?
Rhanda: Initially they asked me, had I been in contact with her, and I did tell them yes, and it was by way of text because she had originally called me that morning through messenger, and I was asleep. I didn’t get the message. When I woke up, I saw that there was a message missed, and I called her back. They wanted to know what interactions we had over the messenger, which I gladly showed him the text messages, and when I held my phone out to show him, he took the phone outta my hand, and basically stated, “We gonna give this right back,” and I’m like, how am I gonna communicate with her?
Unbeknownst to the public, they had my phone – not only were checking for the messages that her and I shared together, but they were interacting with her as though they were me. They were interacting with family members. People were texting me; they were responding to the texts as though they were me.
Ashley: Never asked you if they could do that.
Rhanda: Never asked me, but ultimately when I made a stink about it, once everything was over, they came with a search warrant. They came with a search warrant after the fact. They took my phone on the first of August. I didn’t get my phone back until the third. This is how I was able to validate to people that they weren’t talking to me because I didn’t have my phone. I pled with the officers to use least lethal, smoke –
Ashley: Force yeah.
Rhanda: Yeah, do they call ‘em, a flashbang grenade or a smoke – they told me that that was too dangerous because there was a child in the house.
Ashley: Yet the child ended up getting injured.
Rhanda: Right. They also told me that they wouldn’t allow me or any other family member to speak with her because it offered too much finality, that a lotta times if people speak to their loved ones, they’re more apt to do something terrible to themselves or whoever they’re with. It was so much stuff with the case. Even with her chronicling every interaction that she had with the police – she chronicled it – down to the time they cut –
Ashley: Her Facebook.
Rhanda: – her Facebook, and seconds to minutes later she was killed.
Ashley: We’re at the point where both have lost their lives, and in this instance, both officers did go to court.
Ashley: Marion, in your situation, a not guilty verdict was found, and Rhanda, in yours, there was a jury award – they awarded a substantial amount of money only later for that award to be taken – most of the award to be taken away.
Rhanda: No, all of the award.
Ashley: All of the award.
Rhanda: Exactly. February 16th 2018, we did our third week doing the deliberations, and the jurists came –
Ashley: Of ‘18.
Rhanda: Of ‘18.
Ashley: She died in 2016.
Ashley: And you had to live through a trial from 2016, 2017, 2018.
Rhanda: The trial actually started in 2018, and it lasts for three weeks. On that day, the jurists came up with the amount that they felt was appeasing, which was $37 million, and $32 million was to be directed towards my grandmother and the rest of it was to be directed to –
Ashley: Your grandson.
Rhanda: Right. My grandson, I’m sorry.
Ashley: Who was injured.
Rhanda: Who was injured. He was shot twice. A lotta people don’t know he was shot through a ricochet in his face, and then his elbow – his right elbow was actually blown out.
Ashley: How old was your grandson when this happened?
Rhanda: He was five.
Ashley: Five years old.
Rhanda: He was five.
Ashley: He was a baby.
Rhanda: He was a baby. Even during the trial it came out that they shot her in her back. She was in the kitchen making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Ashley: I just wanna pause. He was a baby who saw his mother killed.
Rhanda: Yes he was.
Ashley: And has been shot twice.
Rhanda: Yes he has.
Ashley: At five years old.
Rhanda: At five years old.
Ashley: The reason why I wanna point out that point and have you all tell the story is ‘cause too often in these incidents, people do not realize – you were a nurse. You were a bank executive. Your husband had just passed away. This is a baby. These are human beings, and the humanity of these individuals is often ripped away through the news, through bias, through perceptions, and people’s lives are ruined through this.
Ashley: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but the grandbaby was shot twice.
Rhanda: He was shot twice. Like I said, his right elbow was blown out. He had to have it totally reconstructed. He will never be able to do push-ups, play any sports, nothing that a normal young man would be able to do. Getting back to the trial – they came back with an award of $37 million, and the judge looked clearly upset that they had come back with a decision like that, and so of course they appealed.
July 2nd of last year, we went back for the appeal, and the judge – he told our lawyers that we tricked the jurors. He said that we tricked them.
Ashley: Heaven forbid the system gives you a little bit of peace and solace, and justice.
Rhanda: Right. On that day, he decided that he would come up with a decision. He said 30-45 days after the July 2nd date. Well, this judge decided to wait – the day before the anniversary of the award, which was February 15th – a whole year later – he comes back and decides that he is gonna release this officer on qualified immunity, which had been on the table two or three times during pre-trial, and the judge stated that it was unnecessary, that we could move forward.
My belief was that he didn’t expect us to win the trial because of the circumstances surrounding it. My daughter had her legally-owned shotgun in her house, and when she woke up to someone entering her house with a key, knowing everybody who lived in there was in the house, she took defense.
Ashley: Because in Maryland you can possess a gun –
Rhanda: A shotgun, yes.
Ashley: – and be concealed without informing law enforcement.
Rhanda: Yes, and for them to have gone to the rental office and gotten a key based on them saying that they could hear someone in the house – they had an arrest warrant. They didn’t have a search warrant.
Ashley: The facts of the story clearly, in both instances, both of your children should be here.
Ashley: We can’t redo what has happened.
Ashley: I do wonder – the conversation often – so often we don’t even see the officers go to court. We rarely see them face any time, or people get any type of financial reward for – it’s not even a reward.
Rhanda: It’s award. Not us, anyway. Not melanated people, anyway.
Ashley: That’s fair. I know we can’t bring your kids back, but I wonder what the closest taste of justice might feel like for the loss of your child. If you had to tell our listeners what you would like to see justice look like, what would it be? Let’s start with you, Marion.
Marion: I just wanna make a correction ‘cause you said the officers went to trial. The only officer than went to trial was the one who did the fatal shooting, and the other officer did absolutely nothing. When he was –
Ashley: The one who pulled the gun.
Marion: The one who pulled the gun was under investigation in three incidents of excessive force.
Ashley: Before this.
Marion: Before this happened with Gary. Also, the public does not know that Gary was scheduled to testify against these very two officers because he had witnessed them abusing a fellow person of color in our community. You don’t see that, or you don’t hear about those type of things, but what does justice look like? I don’t think I can say that there will ever be any justice because my child will never come home.
I think accountability – I’m more concerned about the accountability piece of it than I am justice because there is no justice. There is conviction for the accountability piece because far too often, as you mentioned, there are no indictments, and a conviction is very, very rare. As we’re seeing, the convictions that we are seeing are against persons of color.
Ashley: The officers.
Marion: Yes, the officers – persons of color. In those other cases where it’s reversed, where you have a white officer, there are no indictments, and there are no convictions.
Ashley: I wanna give our listeners just a little background if they haven’t been following what’s been happening recently. In Minneapolis, a white, Australian woman was killed in her community by, I believe, a Somali police officer, and in one of the few convictions recently that happened, a defense that officers often use is that “I was afraid for my life.” The officer in this instance was charged and convicted of the killing of this woman, and oftentimes when white officers say that they were afraid for their life when a black and brown body has been killed, it’s accepted as fact.
Ashley: And dismissed, and that is what we’re saying when we’re talking about how the double standard exists.
Ashley: Rhanda, can you tell me what would justice – I totally understand the fact that no justice could ever bring your child back. Would there be anything that you think that our legal system could do to give you some peace or some sense of fairness and justice for losing your child and the injuring of your grandson?
Rhanda: Justice, Marion stated – there is no down the line for justice. I just want accountability. That was the attempt, through the civil case because you know he wasn’t indicted or charged criminally, and so the only way that we saw to get the truth out, which in my opinion was brought out by way of the jury’s decision – that was taken away because I just wanted her life to be validated, and people are so marginalized, especially our women.
They’re not important, especially in cases like this. That’s why it’s so important for mothers of daughters, just as much as sons, but mothers of daughters to stand up, and scream, and make noise because women’s lives don’t seem to be important when it comes to things like this. You hear Eric Garner. You know Mike Brown, you know Trayvon Martin, but a lotta the women – fortunately, unfortunately my daughter is known, but there are a lotta women that I’ve met over the weekend that I didn’t know that their daughters had been killed. I didn’t even know of them. Justice just seems a far reach unless we can get some accountability.
Ashley: I wanna talk about – so often black women, brown women, we have to carry the pain, the plan, the purpose for not just our families, but for our community, our country, our world, and you all are doing just that. You took tragic, tragic, terrible circumstances – and y’all heard their titles. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Executive, the Executive Director and President for the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, the Treasurer – I’m here with Marion Gray-Hopkins and Rhanda Dormeus, who are with the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, and you all have been a part of this organization because of what happened to you. Can you talk about why you feel like you have to be leading, and being an advocate in this moment, considering what happened to you?
Rhanda: Let me say this: if it hadn’t been for Marion and the Coalition of Concerned Mothers reaching out to me as soon as they did, I probably would be balled up somewhere. They showed me that I wasn’t in this alone. Again, I knew about Sandra Bland, but these people are far outta reach. They were right there front and center to bring me in and let me know that I do have a voice, and that they were gonna stand with me and help me fight.
Ashley: When you learned of Korryn’s murder, did the organization reaches out to other mothers who are going – can you tell me about what you all do?
Marion: Sure. The Coalition of Concerned Mothers is an organization comprised, unfortunately, of mothers that have lost their children to police brutality or to the community via community violence, and we also look at the mass incarceration because there is an interconnection from a lot of different points from the standpoint of African-American or being black and brown people.
We look at giving support to families and to mothers, and we look at the legislative piece of and the policy piece of it, and what needs to happen in order to hopefully not have any mothers be a part of what I call a sorority that we didn’t pledge to join. When we heard about it, I actually got Rhanda’s information, and I reached out to her, and I did that by way of – I knew that there was gonna be a rally in honor of Korryn Gaines, and I went there, and I was able to – I don’t think Rhanda even made it that first day. Rhanda wasn’t there, but there were other family members there, and I said, “You’ve got to give me her information or get my information to her. I’ve been in Rhanda’s shoes. I know what that feels like, and you just feel lost.”
A lotta times, if you have not experienced it, you just don’t understand it. I could truly, in this case, say, “I understand what you’re going through,” and be able to lift her up, and walk with her as she starts her journey to justice.
Ashley: That’s my point is that somebody should be lifting you up. You deserve that, and I know you’re strong. I can see it in both of your eyes. I can see your power. I can see your strength, but we as black women, we deserve the opportunity not to always have to be lifting people up, particularly in our own pain.
Marion: Absolutely, but I think it’s one that we have to do it. You talk about us being lifted up – I mean, I guess it takes me through a process of healing to help others. We were with Iyanla Vanzant this weekend, and she says not helping others, you’re really helping yourself through the process. It’s the service that you’re offering to mothers that is supporting your healing process. A lot of it is that, but we need more people out there that’s going to lift us up. We are not gonna stand back and wait for them to lift us up.
Rhanda: Absolutely not.
Marion: That’s why we take the charge, and we lead. It starts with us. There are some mothers that can’t do this, and so we have to be the voice of the voiceless, if you will.
Marion: If you have that strength, it’s a must – I said, why Gary? Then when I finally got myself through it, I said, why not Gary? Gary I consider as a martyr. One of the things I wanna share that he said to me that very morning – he says, “Mom, you’re one of the strongest people that I know. You’re such a soldier.” My husband said those exact words to me on his deathbed. That, to me, motivated me to be able to stand up, and do what they expected me to do, to be the soldier that they said I was. Thus I became that fighter.
Ashley: I think you’re being more than a soldier. I think you’re being a general right now. You are leading a movement that unfortunately has too many people behind you to follow. I just wanna say thank you to both of you for one, being here and sharing your story on Pod for the Cause, but two, leading an effort for our people, and changing policy, and working to change policy.
Can we talk a little bit about policy? There is a lotta conversation going on right now about policing and what needs to happen. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights just recently released a report, new era of public safety, and there’s a lotta different beliefs on what policing should look like. We have folks – the report talks a lot about collaborative reform, community policing, the community and police working together for reforms. Then there are people that have an abolitionist mindset, which is eliminate police, eliminate the reliance on a policing system.
Then there are people on the other end of the spectrum that think we need more police because we gotta patrol communities to stop violence. Where do you fall in your advocacy as you approach these issues? Are you all working with police officers in your community? Do you do that type of work?
Rhanda: I’m not there yet. I really don’t – and I come from a law enforcement family, and I don’t believe all police are bad. I do not, but I do believe that there needs to be some house cleaning. Until we get law enforcement that are in it for the real service of the job, they’re not gonna always use “I’m afraid” as a reason to just kill people. Firefighters have to run into fires. They are expected that they may die, and they’re not gonna use it as an excuse not to be a public servant.
The police officers, a lot of ‘em are on the force because it gives them that power to do the things that they wanna do to the people they wanna do it to. I really, really believe that, but at the end of the day, this is a nationwide issue. We need to clean house. We need to – Baltimore City, we have the new Commissioner coming in. He’s cleaning house because he knows that there are some things going on within the department that has not been working –
Ashley: And got to change.
Rhanda: He has to change it, and there are some people that are mad with him, but they can be mad because I see from the outside looking in that there are issues because of our situation. We know that there’s an issue.
Ashley: The people who are mad should come have a conversation with you.
Ashley: It’s often the people who don’t believe reform is necessary, probably have never sat down with someone who have lost their child to a police officer.
Ashley: Can you talk to me, Marion, a little bit about how you all – the Coalition of Concerned Mothers – how you all approach your advocacy? You talked a little about work focusing on legislation. What are some of the work that you all are doing?
Marion: A lotta the work, too, that we do is partnership because we know that there’re a lot of organizations out here like the ACLU, like Amnesty International, the People’s Coalition for Police Accountability in Prince George’s County, where I reside. There are other organizations, but working with them to identify different laws and policies that need to be changed. One of the biggest things that we’ve been working on for years in the state of Maryland is around the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. People call it LEOBoR, and those are actually a subset of laws that actually protects the officer.
It’s critical – so the work that we do is like, let’s identify what points of failure exist in that legislation, and let’s look at changing it, but I will tell you that resistance from police unions is very, very powerful. They’re very, very strong. There is resistance at every end on every front when we come forth to bring about change because again, it protects them.
Contrary to what you’ve said, I don’t believe there are any good officers because there is that blue wall of silence, if you will. That code that they have, and if I feel like, as an officer, if you see something, say something. That’s what they expect citizens to do; that’s what citizens expect you to do. Until they are come to the point where they are seeing something, and they will say something about it, I think they’re all bad. They talk about one bad apple. I say that there is a bad crop.
I was an attendee at the first rollout of the campaign for new policing, and public safety, and I probably got the name all screwed up here –
Ashley: That’s okay.
Marion: – but I was attending – and there was a Chief of Police there from Camden, New Jersey.
Ashley: Scott Thomson.
Marion: He was there, and he’s doing something, Rhanda, that sounds like very similar to what’s happening in Baltimore, cleaning house, or making the necessary changes because if you continue down the path, and doing things the way you’ve always done ‘em – I’ve known that’s insanity.
Ashley: That’s right.
Marion: Until they can change and begin to work with the communities that they serve, they should live in the communities that they serve – I’m of age – I’m not gonna tell what my age is, but I’m of age when we called them “officer friendlies.” They worked in the community, they dealt with the communities – we need to go back to that.
Rhanda: They knew you by name.
Ashley: By name.
Ashley: My grandfather was a police officer. I just was home in Youngtown, Ohio. People come up to me to this day: “Oh, my goodness. I remember when your grandfather would, yada yada,” and talk about it because they knew your name. They weren’t afraid to get out the patrol cars and have conversations. They saw your humanity.
Marion: Absolutely, but just like the chief from Camden said – they were going by the books. The books need to be changed.
Ashley: That’s right.
Ashley: What do you all think – Rhanda, I’ll start with you. What do you think we need to do to make sure we don’t have to have this conversation in 20 years?
Rhanda: We don’t have time for this list. Again, it’s just reform. No, seriously, it’s reform. They first need to get rid of a lotta officers that have internal affair reports on them ‘cause the officer than killed Korryn had several.
Ashley: And the officer that murdered Gary.
Marion: No, the officer that murdered him, I never got his record, but it was public information for the officer who precipitated the event.
Ashley: Got it.
Marion: He had several incidents against him for excessive force, and Rhanda – and I’ll let you get back to what you’re sharing – but internal affairs to me needs to be dissolved. It needs to be an independent group of individuals –
Marion: Because internal affairs – they work in the same department. Your peers.
Ashley: You’re working with the same people signing the checks.
Marion: Absolutely. You’re working with your peers, and how likely is it for you to not give a biased opinion about what has transpired? I’m with you. The internal affairs need to be dissolved and independent investigative –
Rhanda: Yeah, and also we have to take it into consideration – I don’t know the numbers, but I know Baltimore City paid up a huge amount of money for settlements for officers that are still on the force. You’re gonna pay their way so they can keep either murdering, and then they get a promotion after they’re murdering – it’s just like I don’t know – I don’t know what to even say about what can be done outside of having independent resources to look into what’s been going on, and like you said, dissolve internal affairs because they’re useless.
Ashley: What do you think, Marion? One or two things that we need to do to make sure we don’t have to have this conversation in 20 years?
Marion: It’s an entire reform of the judicial system because there’s interconnections with all of it. Will that happen in 20 years? I doubt it very seriously, but I will tell you, we’re trying to put a dent in it. We’re trying to build the foundation for change, but that internal affairs piece – in my case, it didn’t work for me. Even in the case with the judge, I think law enforcement officers need to be held in a higher standard, if you will, and not be protected. You gotta look at the judge, you gotta look – all of it needs to be looked at.
Ashley: Every aspect.
Marion: Every aspect of the judicial system needs to be reformed and revamped.
Ashley: Before we wrap up, I wanna give you one last opportunity – I’m here today on Pod for the Cause with both of my guests, Marion Gray-Hopkins and Rhanda Dormeus. If you could ask the listeners of Pod for the Cause one thing they can do to honor the memory of Gary, what would it be?
Marion: I would say to continue to lift Gary’s name because as we know, Gary’s case wasn’t one that was got national recognition or news because we hear about a lot of the big names – and not to downplay any of those that have been murdered, unfortunately, by police and other law enforcement – but to also donate to the Coalition of Concerned Mothers. You can donate by going to coalitionofconcernedmothers.org. We also have a Facebook page for Coalition of Concerned Mothers, and also it doesn’t necessarily have to be Coalition of Concerned Mothers, although we do welcome your support.
This actually takes mothers down, and there are so many mothers that are unfortunately were thriving, and when this happened to them, they are unable to work, and we want to be able to support them. If it’s not Coalition of Concerned Mothers, find an organization that you can donate to that is doing the work. I would also say that join an organization or support an organization that is doing the work, whether it be Coalition of Concerned Mothers or any other organization.
Whatever your role is because we all play a different role. We all do things different. People like to say, “Stay in your lane.” Whatever your lane is, get in that lane and make sure that you’re out here doing the work in order for us to stop this. I don’t want any other mother to be a part of this organization because this is definitely not a good place to be.
Ashley: Thank you so much. Rhanda, if you could tell our listeners one thing that you would like them to do to honor Korryn’s memory, what would it be?
Rhanda: Again, I’m gonna say just to continue to say her name, and like I said, research your information before you make blanket judgments about what the media presents to you because the media, we all know, has a tendency to lie or make things out to favor them. To recap what Marion said, the importance of donating, whether it’s to a coalition or any other organization – it helps because, like she stated, a lotta mothers are unable to work after the loss of their children. They’re not able to function.
The money will also assist with us and other organizations to be able to get to other mothers. There are mothers all over the United States that don’t have this kind of support. We had a mother at the event that she’s never been in a room full of women who have the same experience, who knows the laws. That’s important when you donate. It’s not for our pockets. It’s to support other mothers in their struggle because it’s a forever struggle. It’s nothing that’s gonna go away
Ashley: It’ll never be –
Rhanda: Marion’s been in here for 20 years, and it’s still just as painful as it was day one.
Rhanda: It’s just important to uplift these mothers that may need help to get to places, to be around other mothers, who understand their grief.
Ashley: Ladies, I wanna give you, from the deepest part of my heart, a thank you for constantly leading the charge and fighting such a important issue. I will say their name: Gary, Korryn. I will appreciate you for all that you do. Stay strong, take care of yourself, and happy Mother’s Day.
Marion: Thank you.
Rhanda: Thank you.
Ashley: Coming up, I will hit you with some real talk during our hot take, where I get a few things off my chest in three minutes or less.
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Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. We’ve been talking with mothers who lost their children to police violence today, and between our Pod Squad, and Marion and Rhanda, I have a couple things I need to say.
I started working at the Obama White House in July 2014, and one month later, Michael Brown was murdered. I remember walking home one night in August and listening to Jeezy’s “My President is Black,” and crying because it didn’t matter that my president was black. We couldn’t save Mike. We couldn’t save Eric, or Tamir, not Laquan, or Freddie, and we couldn’t protect Sandra or Korryn. We wish we could have, but we couldn’t.
Despite the meetings with protestors from Ferguson, some of who I’m still friends with, and bringing almost 1,000 police officers to the White House to train them on implicit bias and other topics regarding reform, we still couldn’t save them. I will never forget the morning I woke up to learn Alton Sterling was killed. And then the next day, to watch the video of Philando Castile bleed out on Facebook. I wanted to quit. I felt like a failure.
How could this keep happening? How was it, despite all the work we did, from the highest office of the land, and all the work the activists were doing in communities for decades – how was it that we were able to live in a world where black lives were still inconsequential?
I wish I could tell you that feeling went away because justice was served, or because no one was ever killed again, but that’s not what happened. That feeling of despair and failure lasted from that day through the last day of the administration, and quite honestly, as I recount this story, the feeling of self-disappointment and pain is once again beginning to rise up.
I was re-triggered on December 4th, just six months ago, when my sister, who literally is an award-winning physics and chemistry teacher in Anacostia, DC, called me and said she had been stopped by the police, and the officer grabbed his gun. She told me that in that moment, all she could think was, “Oh god, this is how it happens. Is this how I die?” Her outcome was survival, but she was lucky. I’m not saying this to dispel hope, but I say this to channel all the disappointment and pain for positive change. The disappointment that Marion and Rhanda spoke of, that Lucy and Sabrina lived through, and so many other names we never hear, we must channel it for positive change.
This spring the Leadership Conference released a report with recommendations on what police reform should look like, along with a toolkit that gives individuals a step-by-step guide on how to advocate for themselves and the communities they live in. Look, I’m no fool, so I don’t think one report or a toolkit is gonna end systemic racism or eliminate police violence, but I know it is one step in the right direction to chip away at this problem.
I encourage all of you – those who have ever felt the pain of police violence, and those who just want change – to take action. Visit policing.civilrights.org to get more information on how you can work in your local community for police reform. Don’t be afraid to say their names, and don’t stop fighting because Korryn Gaines, Gary Hopkins Jr., and countless others are counting on you.
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Ashley: Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause. For more information, please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up @podforthecause on all social platforms. Be sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.
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