But two weeks later Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by an Atlanta police officer. Two months after that, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer. Then it was cyclist Dijon Kizzee, who was killed by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies Aug. 31. Most recently, a white Texas police officer was charged Monday with murdering Jonathan Price, a 31-year-old Black man.
“To continually turn on the TV and see police brutality is still being done, there has to be a change,” said Bridgett Floyd, who is George Floyd’s younger sister.
Bridgett Floyd sprung into action. She and her siblings launched the George Floyd Memorial Foundation in September, joining a growing movement of Black families devastated by police brutality and racist violence who are fighting to end the unjust treatment of people of color.
The families have created foundations to lobby for police reform, racial equality and investment in Black and brown neighborhoods and provide a support system for each other. They’ve stood on the front lines of the fight for racial justice, often holding back tears as they speak out at protests, press conferences and meetings with officials.
Some families are still seeking justice in their own cases.
On Monday, prosecutors in California announced they would reopen the case of Oscar Grant following demands from his family. Grant was fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California, on New Years Day in 2009. Mehserle was charged with murder, but a jury only convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and he served 11 months.
Relatives have also run for political office.
In August,Sybrina Fulton, whose 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012, narrowly lost the race for Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners in Florida. Lesley McSpadden, whose 18-year-old son Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in 2014, lost her bid for Ferguson City Council in Missouri last year.
Many families impacted by police violence spoke at the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington in August that marked the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and called for national police reform. Some also met with President Donald Trump at the White House in June to seek justice in their cases.
Black Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police, according to a study published this year by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Advocacy, the families say, is often part of the grieving process.
After facing the hurt, they have a desire to keep their loved one’s legacy alive and prevent more Black families from experiencing the same grief.
“We pretty much want to be on the front lines to help fight systemic racism,” Bridgett Floyd said. “And being that my brother isn’t here to be the voice that people need to hear, we are going to make sure that we (are) that voice by promoting global awareness, and peaceful protests for justice and police brutality.”
George Floyd died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
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Bridgett Floyd said she created the George Floyd Memorial Foundation to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement. It strives to propose police reform, engage in protests, encourage voting, host community events, educate the public on racial injustice and open centers that will be safe havens for young Black men. Bridgett Floyd said she also wants to create a second chance program that provides services for men and women released from prison.
The Floyd family officially launched the foundation during a National Homeless Day event in Minneapolis on Sept. 13. At the event, the family presented a $5,000 donation to the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center where George Floyd worked.
Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who represents several Black families changed forever by police violence, including the Floyds, said the launch event was fitting because George Floyd was known as a selfless man who would take homeless people to medical appointments and basketball games.
Crump said he, too, thought the global response to George Floyd’s death would lead to better police relations in the Black community.
“I still thought George’s case was one of such proportion that police were going to stop, at least for a while, killing us,” Crump told USA TODAY. “But that’s not the case and we’ve got work to do, and that’s why the (George Floyd) foundation is needed more than ever.”
Mothers speak out against violence
Some Black families crushed by racist violence and police brutality this year are gradually finding their voice.
At a news conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Sept. 25, Breonna Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, read a statement from Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, responding to news that the three Louisville officers who fatally shot Taylor in March were not indicted for her death. Instead, one officer, Brett Hankison, was indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for firing bullets that went into a neighboring unit where three people were home.
“This has been emotionally, mentally and physically draining for my sister,” Austin said.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, whose son, Ahmaud Arbery, was chased and killed by three white men on Feb. 23 as he jogged through a southern Georgia neighborhood, spoke at the Commitment March on Washington and joined Breonna Taylor protests in Louisville this summer.
Cooper-Jones said while she was still grieving, she wanted to show her support for Palmer. The two mothers met in Louisville and embraced each other.
“I thought about the days after Ahmaud was killed and I was surrounded by family,” Cooper-Jones said in an interview with USA TODAY. “But no one I was surrounded by could feel what I was going through. And it was important to be around someone who could feel the same the pain.”
Cooper-Jones said she doesn’t believe Arbery or Taylor’s cases have gotten justice. She wants the three district attorneys who failed to arrest the men who killed Arbery to be held accountable by “whatever means necessary.”
Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were not arrested and charged with murder until after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case in May. The three men remain in jail, awaiting trial.
Cooper-Jones said she eventually wants to create a foundation that caters to young Black males. Her goal would be to keep them out of the criminal justice system and on a path to success.
“I want to help the youth, I love children,” Cooper-Jones said. “But I’m still grieving and trying to get back to normal.”
Families unite in advocacy
Fighting for justice has bonded many Black families together.
Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle, recalled being angry after Grant’s death. Witnesses recorded video of the officer shooting Grant in the back as he lied face down on the train platform.
“When I saw the video I could remember collapsing,” Johnson said, adding that he was shocked to see such unjust treatment of a Black person in a nation where everyone should be created equal.
He found peace knowing he had texted Grant, 22, hours before he was killed. Grant was heavy on his spirit that night, he said. “Uncle loves you and God loves you,” the text read.
Years later, after seeing the outpouring of support from the Oakland community, he decided to become an advocate for change.
In 2014, he founded Families United 4 Justice – a network of Black people who have lost family members to police brutality or racist violence. The nonprofit’s main goals are police accountability and holistic support services for its families.
Johnson said Families United 4 Justice successfully pushed California lawmakers to pass several police reform laws. Notably, the group lobbied for the bill known as “Stephon Clark’s Law,” which was passed in 2019 and requires police to use deadly force only when “necessary” instead of the previous wording of “reasonable.”
Families United 4 Justice hosts a conference every year where families gather for workshops on dealing with the media, telling their story, and the history of policing among other topics. In 2019, some 175 families attended the conference held in Las Vegas, Johnson said.
Johnson said Families United 4 Justice has helped him cope with Grant’s death, helping him make new friends who ultimately feel like sisters and brothers. Smaller chapters of Families United 4 Justice have been created in cities across the country, he said.
“Everybody knows now that something has to be done,” Johnson said. “Because there is a real internal struggle within this country when it comes to the state and the people. And the people are suffering at the hands of the police.”
Valerie Castile, whose son, Philando Castile, was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer in 2016, also wanted to help other families hurt by police brutality.
Castile said after accepting that she would never get her son back, she founded the Philando Castile Relief Foundation in 2018. The organization offers meals, grief counseling services, funeral attire and grocery store gift cards for families.
The foundation also strives to end child hunger. Since it launched, the organization has paid off more than $150,000 in school lunch debt for students in Minneapolis-St. Paul area schools, Valerie Castile said.
Before his death, Philando Castile was a school lunch supervisor at J. J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul. He knew all of his students by name, he knew their food allergies, memorized their school lunch account pin numbers and enjoyed mentoring them, Valerie Castile said.
“Our communities are struggling on so many different levels and what happened to Philando was wrong on so many levels,” Valerie Castile said. “I had to take time to look at the overall big picture. It’s very important that we stand with our community because we have been oppressed for so long.”