Mother’s Day may be a commercially contrived premise, but it brings with it a deep sense of sentimentality for many. For some mothers though, it brings unspeakable grief as they wrestle with the unimaginable pain of the loss of their children to reckless street or police violence.
“Peter Liang’s mother can get hugs from her son” said Hertencia Petersen. “He can bring her flowers, take her to the movies, see her whenever he wants. Akai Gurley’s mother can not do that—ever.”
Petersen is the aunt of Akai Gurley, who was slain by convicted, but not jailed, ex-cop Peter Liang. “I don’t have an emotional attachment to any of the holidays anymore,” she told the Amsterdam News. “I won’t celebrate any of these days until Peter Liang is held accountable for my nephew’s death. Imagine how it is for mother Sylvia. She is devastated. Due to the recklessness of Liang, she no longer has her son this Mother’s Day—or any other day.”
Activists are noting that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of mothers for whom this day is more difficult than most, save for the tragic anniversaries of the deaths of their children. In the news are some mothers of the well-known victims: Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Iofemi Hightower, Prince P.J., Oscar Grant, Randy Evans, Nicholas Heyward Jr., Khiel Coppin, Justin Smith, Shantel Davis, Latasha Harlins, Ramarley Graham, Timothy Stansbury, Kimani Gray, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Gregory Chavis, John Crawford, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Amadou Diallo, Chris Owens, Walter Scott, Antiq Hennis, Ousmane Zongo, Akai Gurley, Tonaya Copeland, Mohammed Bah, Phillip White, Jamal Gaines and mother of 12, Zurana Horton.
Walk down any inner-city street in New York, and you still might see a black T-shirt with “I Am Sean Bell” in bold gold letters on it.
Valerie and William are the parents of the 23-year-old father of two, who was shot at 50 times by NYPD plainclothes cops—on his wedding day, Nov. 25, 2006.
Valerie Bell told the AmNews, “It is a hard day, but thank God Sean left me two grandchildren—Jada, 13, and Jordyn, 9. That’s how I get by on that day. A lot of people didn’t get that chance because their loved ones were so young when they were killed, and they did not have children yet. This year makes 10 years since Sean was killed by the NYPD. His oldest daughter was 2-years-old when he died, and he did not get a chance to know his baby who was 5-months-old. Just to see them lifts me up. There are so many ways they have that remind me of him—the way they look, their personalities, their ways to an extent.”
Bell, who has another son, William, and daughter, Delores, says that she is a part of a network of mothers who also have lost children to police or gun violence.
“Yes, we are a circle of mothers who have a sad commonality, but we are able to come together to support each other, and give each other strength,” she said. “We are there for other mothers to give them comfort as they seek justice. When the next African-American and Latino family succeeds in making the police accountable and get justice, that will bring me joy.”
In March, 2012, Sybrina Fulton said, “This will be my first Mother’s Day without my son, Trayvon … I know it will be hard, but my faith, family and friends will pull me through. This Sunday, I’m going to say a prayer for other mothers across America who share this unbearable pain.”
She noted, “Just like me, 30,000 mothers lost their children this year to senseless gun violence. Nobody can bring our children back, but it would bring us comfort if we can help spare other mothers the pain we will feel on Mother’s Day and every day for the rest of our lives. I’m asking you to join Florida by calling upon the governor of your state to re-examine similar stand-your-ground laws throughout the nation to keep our families safe. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Happy Mother’s Day.
In an internationally polarizing case, the world watched as self-appointed, racial-profiling, want-to-be-law-enforcer George Zimmerman escaped conviction in the unprovoked shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, 2012, in Florida.
Speaking on behalf of her Trayvon Martin Foundation, and with the fellow mourning “Circle of Mothers,” Fulton told New York magazine, “It hurts every time I see another tragedy in the news. I feel for those families, I can understand that mother’s cry, and that father’s yelling. I can understand those things because I’ve been through it, and I’m still going through it years later. The pain is so fresh, it’s like it never goes away. It’s better at some times, but it never goes away.”
“I will continue to speak for every mother paralyzed because of the loss of their child,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, speaking in April at the Library of Congress, at the first symposium of the new Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. The mother of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old Black woman who died in a Texas jail cell in July last year. The video-recorded traffic stop and the later police claim that she hung herself in her cell, sparked protests nationwide, and her name became synonymous with police brutality worldwide.
Her mom always decries the police version that her daughter committed suicide. The arresting officer, Brian Encinia, was fired but not indicted.
Read-Veal stated, “Take two minutes and Google the other six [women] that died in jail. We’re not talking about that year, we’re talking about the month of July , 18 to 50 [years old]. Kindra Chapman [Alabama] allegedly stole a cell phone; 20 hours later she hung herself. Alexis McGovern [Missouri], downstairs in the infirmary dead, her family upstairs paying the bond. Currently, all of their deaths are under investigation by authorities. [Joyce Curnell of South Carolina, Ralkina Jones of Ohio, Alexis McGovern, Raynetta Turner of New York]. Nobody has spoken these names. And as I go around the country speaking, the fact that no pen is raised in a room, where six other women, aside from my daughter, have died. And nobody knows their names. That’s a problem. The tears are real, the pain is real, the problem is real. So, I don’t come here playing games with you all. I don’t come to sit and be a part of a caucus where we talk and do nothing. You, don’t know my pain. God forbid you go up to another grieving mother and say you know how she feels. That is a lie. Unless you have lost a child. Am I angry? Absolutely. I’m not angry enough to create a riot where I burn things down, but I will create a riot. I will set off so that people will understand that this is real. Movements move. Activists activate. We have got to stop talking and move. So I leave you with this: It is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.”
Valerie Bell said that she will mark her sons tragic 10-year anniversary next November with a book signing of her title, “Just 23—Thoughts From a Mother in Spoken Word by Keisha Walker.”
“Mother’s Day is always hard, but without our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t have made it. Even though I have my family, Jesus will always get the honor and glory.”
Reflecting on her new role as an activist against police non-accountability in cases such as the killing of her nephew Akai Gurley, Petersen declared, “I am just drained. It is an emotional rollercoaster, when you think you are going to get justice and you don’t. Now comes the appeals: from D.A. Ken Thompson, whose recommendation letter to judge Danny Chun asked that Liang got no jail time; then Liang’s attorneys are appealing; and Kimberley is appealing. She is the mother of Akai’s daughter. So it still is not over, and Liang is not in jail. We are still fighting for justice.”