With pleas for remembrance and calls to action, the Seattle King County NAACP rallied the community on Saturday to commemorate the lives of Black and Brown men, women, and children killed by police in Washington State and throughout the U.S. The remembrance event was held at Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Memorial Park and was organized by a committee led by 2nd Vice President Erica Conway.
At a time when inquests into police killings in King County are delayed by a stalled inquest-reform process, and with the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd approaching, the audience of about 50 people was called to remember, and to turn their anger into action.
After an invocation by Ezra Maize, pastor at Ebenezer AME Zion Church, Seattle King County NAACP President Carolyn Riley Payne welcomed the attendees and asked each person to be mindful of the names of slain Black and Brown people displayed around the park.
“You cannot walk as a Black person and feel safe. This is 2021, yet the lynching continues,” said Riley Payne, decrying the absence of accountability for police.
“We must dedicate ourselves to correcting the racist system that led to these deaths,” she added, stressing the importance of not only voting, but asking hard questions of candidates and elected officials.
Riley-Payne closed with these encouraging words: “Being Black ain’t easy but it sure is fun.”
St. Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley, one of nine Black representatives in the state legislature, spoke emotionally of her pain as a Black woman and a Black mother, living with fear as her children leave for school, “not knowing if they’ll come back.”
The featured speaker, Rev. Dr. Leslie Braxton of the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Kent, began his speech with the well-known poem “If I Must Die” by Claude McKay.
“We come to share the weight that is too great to be borne on the shoulders of one family,” recited Braxton.
Braxton said police reforms just signed by Gov. Inslee represent progress, but called on lawmakers to go further by placing police under civilian control, similar to the civilian control of the military in our country.
DeVitta Briscoe spoke of the death of her brother Che Taylor at the hands of the police in 2016. She recounted how the family became organizers and facilitated the creation and passage of the measures that Inslee has just signed.
However, all speakers including former King County Councilmember and longtime activist Larry Gossett agreed that the new laws are meaningless without accountability.
Attorney James Bible, who represents the family of Manuel Ellis, said “With every law that is passed…the powers that be will try to find a way to circumvent it.”
A moving part of the event was the reading of names of those who have died by police violence. Some were familiar, some less so; some were recent, others from the past. But all in all, the list was far too long.
The final speaker of the event, Claude Burfect, 1st Vice President of the NAACP, pointed out that the portrait on the speakers’ badges was of Emmett Till, who was 14 when he was beaten and mutilated by a mob in 1955. Burfect noted that he himself was 13 at the time, and too little has changed in the ensuing 66 years.
The organizers ended the ceremony with the release of white doves, who circled the park as they rose into the sky.