May 24, 2022
(St. Louis, Mo.) On May 24, 2022, outside St. Louis City Hall, the Fatal State Violence (FSV) Response Program, a coalition of families who have lost loved ones to police killings and deaths in jails and the families’ supporters brought together by Faith for Justice and ArchCity Defenders, held a press conference and rally. Following the continued killings by police in St. Louis, a growing number of families impacted by fatal state violence spoke out for the first time collectively about their personal experiences and the policy changes they’ve been advocating for.
In 2017, 63-year-old Don Clark, Sr., and 21-year-old Isaiah Hammett were murdered in “no-knock raids” carried out by the Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) unit of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD). At today’s press conference, their surviving loved ones, Don Clark, Jr. and Gina Torres spoke about their feelings of loss, their advocacy efforts with the FSV Response Program, and their demands for a full, unequivocal ban on the use of no-knock raids, “quick-knock” raids, and other forms of militarized policing on St. Louis residents.
“Yesterday, I had to go to my son’s graduation and he didn’t have his big brother there. That’s really hard for me. We do not need the police to have more money or to have training to keep killing us, because that’s all they keep doing. They keep killing us,” lamented Ms. Torres.
“Those things [no-knock raids] are not only dangerous to my family, they’re dangerous to your family. The things that have happened to my family will continue until we get control of the people who are sworn in to protect us,” said Mr. Clark, Jr.
Larry Graves, the father of Julius “Jules” Graves, who was 43 when he was killed by SLMPD in April 2019, advocated for a complete ban on the police use of vehicular chases, which endanger not only the person being chased but the officers doing the chasing, people in traffic, and bystanders. Since December 1, 2021, St. Louis City and County police have killed at least 15 different people, with over 50% having died from vehicular chases. In May 2022, five members of the Simmons’ family, Anngelique Simmons-Walker (52), Ephriam Simmons (47), Luther Simmons (44), Rhonda Simmons (34), and Takera Thompson (11) reportedly died in a tragic car crash involving a police vehicular chase. A GoFundMe for the family is here.
Toni Taylor, whose son Cary T. Ball, Jr. was 25 years of age when killed by SLMPD in April 2013, spoke to the need for truly independent investigations of killings by police, with real consequences and accountability. For years, Ms. Taylor and her family have held concerns, posed questions, and advocated for an independent investigation into Cary’s death and other victims killed by the state.
“We truly feel like we could come together as the St. Louis families and apply pressure,” said Ms. Taylor. “We ask you, as the St. Louis families: Stand with us and help us hold these police accountable!”
Tammy Bufford, the mother of Cortez Bufford (24), who was killed by SLMPD in December 2019, spoke to the need for increased transparency for surviving families on the circumstances of their loved ones’ death. Ms. Bufford echoed familiar concerns about not being able to access information and records about their loved one, details of their death, and even where their loved one’s body is located.
“We are here today because today would have been Cortez’s 27th birthday, but he didn’t make it to 27. We stopped counting at 24, because that officer decided to be judge, jury, and executioner . . . We are fighting for, demanding transparency in these cases and also reparations,” said Ms. Bufford.
Speaking on the fifth and final demand, Brittney Watkins, the press conference emcee and Staff Attorney at ArchCity Defenders, called for reparations for families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
The speakers concluded the press conference with a commemorative balloon release in honor of Cortez Bufford, and the following calls to action:
- Inviting elected officials to get in contact and meet with the families.
- Encouraging donations to support the Simmons family’s GoFundMe.
- Asking the public to advocate for and amplify the families’ demands with their elected officials.
- Inviting people to the 5th Angelversary of Isaiah Hammett, outside of City Hall on June 7, 2022.
Since November 2021, impacted families who spoke at today’s press conference have reached out to and met with several local and state elected officials urging policy and budget changes to decrease state violence, while remaining vigilant of ongoing police killings and supporting families in crisis.
For more information about ArchCity’s overall initiative to combat fatal state violence, visit: www.archcitydefenders.org/fatalstateviolence and follow #fatalstateviolence on social media.
Z Gorley, ArchCity Defenders, Communications Director