A small group of protesters gathered in front of the Bruce R. Thompson courthouse and federal building on Sunday to voice their concerns over police killings and how police investigate them. This is the fourth year families have gathered for the event.
The group said they were demanding, “Reopening all cases of police brutality, including those in which grand juries refused to indict the police officers responsible; and firing, prosecuting and jailing police officers who kill unarmed, impaired, or otherwise defenseless civilians.”
Event organizer Annemarie Grant began the event by reading the names of people killed by regional law enforcement agencies going back to 1998.
Grant said she disapproved of law enforcement agencies investigating themselves when their own officers are involved in fatal incidents.
“My brother was killed here in 2015, and it really opened my eyes to what actually happens when law enforcement kills a community member,” she said. “In this county they have never found a shooting unjustified.”
TJ Canfield agreed. He spoke about Kyle Zimbelman, who was shot and killed by multiple Washoe County Sheriff’s deputies on Aug, 19, 2016, in an incident later ruled by Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks as a justified shooting.
Canfield said the system in which law enforcement investigates their own is part of a “good old boy” system going back to the founding of Washoe County.
“If I killed somebody, I wouldn’t be allowed to do my own investigation into my alleged crime. So why should they be any different?” Grant asked.
She also raised concern over the lack of drug testing for regional law enforcement.
Several participants traveled to attend the event, including Kerri Sander from Oregon and Karen Sutherland who drove up from Visalia, California.
Sutherland said after her son Shayne’s asphyxiation at the hands of law enforcement officers her eyes were opened to the number of people killed by police in the U.S. Her son was killed in Stockton, but Sutherland said she wanted to attend the event in support.
Sander was attending out of a desire to bring justice for her daughter, Georgianna Jackson, whose death, Sanders feels, was not investigated in earnest.
“My daughter was in a physical altercation,” she said. “She was beat up and the police don’t seem to think that it’s important to investigate…They’re (police) not trained to deal with people with mental illness on top of consuming street drugs.
“And, of course, it’s gonna make somebody act erratic, like my daughter,” she added. “But they’re expecting you to …conduct yourself as if nothing’s happening. And in a controllable manner. It’s not going to happen with a mind like that, especially when you’ve got multiple police officers around.”
While each person had a personal reason for attending the protest, there was a consistent message that this group wants killing by police to be investigated by independent investigators not by themselves.
Correction: Karen Sutherland’s son was killed by law enforcement officers, not her brother as previously stated.
Ty O’Neil is a lifelong student of anthropology with two degrees in the arts. He is far more at home in the tear gas filled streets of war torn countries than he is relaxing at home. He has found a place at This Is Reno as a photojournalist. He hopes to someday be a conflict photojournalist covering wars and natural disasters abroad.