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For Black victims of police brutality, when is enough, enough?

Dorothy Dempsey reflects on the deaths of George Floyd, Tyre Nichols, and her late niece Marilyn Banks.

St. Louis police stand at the scene of an officer-involved shooting in 2015. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP)

All life matters. No one should ever be judged by the color of their skin. Yet this is the centuries-long history of Black people.

The front-page headlines of the murder of George Floyd by a White policeman, Derek Chauvin, and the recent police murder of Tyre Nichols bring back vivid memories of the 1983 death of my niece, Marilyn Banks. She was only 20 years old, shot by a White policeman in St. Louis named Joseph Ferrario.

Marilyn was born on November 14, 1964. at the time of her death was the mother of two children: Harold, who was five, and Antwon, who was only 11 months old.

The police officer was chasing 16-year-old Laura Wofford, a female suspected of carrying a gun and a knife. Marilyn was sitting with her cousin on her aunt’s front porch when she was struck by a stray bullet from Ferraro’s gun. She died two days later.

It was later alleged that the gun found at the scene was planted by Ferrario. It did not have Wofford’s fingerprints on it. Ferrario’s case was later moved to the Jackson County Circuit Court, where he was acquitted of the crime in 1984.

It was a microcosm of White privilege in America, an unequal society where Black people are denied the privilege of a normal life.

The police officers who murdered George Floyd had the luxury of knowing they were White and privileged. Or, at the very least, not Black. It is an experience Chauvin still enjoys, even in prison. The other police officers involved in Floyd's murder were also proven guilty and imprisoned on federal and state convictions. One of them, Tou Thao, was found guilty in a Minnesota court just this month.

The imprint of a diverse group of young people—Black, White, and otherwise—who picked up the banner of courage to march and protest the injustice in the world, will remain indelible for future generations. They stood for justice and truth.

St. Louis Alderman Terry Kennedy, activist Jamala Rogers, Alderman Antonio French, and Alderman Chris Carter at the special session on the city's civilian police oversight bill in 2015. Rogers and others had worked to enact the bill since the death of Marilyn Banks in 1983. (Wiley Price/St. Louis American)

Marilyn’s family was torn apart when she died. It was a sad reminder to see George Floyd’s family suffer, and all the families who experience the loss of loved ones killed at the hands of police officers. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds while he was begging to breathe and asking for his mother.

Tyre Nichols called out for his mother too. Neither he nor Floyd deserved to die. The death of these two men opened the raw wounds of all the Black families who have not yet healed. Especially the death of Nichols, a young Black man killed by four Black police officers.

After 400 years of bondage for Black people and 40 years after the death of Marilyn Banks, racism still exists. There seems to be no end to the hatred and destruction of human lives and the fear, from some, of a non-White world.

Moreover, when families are torn apart by the drastic actions of police officers, the enforcers of the law do not seem to realize the life-changing circumstances that linger long after the loss of loved ones. This is especially true for children.

Marilyn’s son Harold and his brother Antwon are college graduates who now have children of their own. Harold speaks of the special memories of his mother’s scent, touch, and voice. There are three days of the year he cannot bear: his mother Marilyn's birthday, November 14; the day of her death, July 21; and Mother’s Day.

Jamala Rogers, a writer and activist, and fellow protester Virvus Jones, who was also a politician, were very strong advocates during the prosecution of Officer Ferrario. Harold remains deeply grateful to them for their support.

Harold also speaks of the absence (and the power) of the ministers’ voices in the churches today. Rev. Al Sharpton referred to them as “holy punks in the pulpit,” during his eulogy at George Floyd's final homegoing service. Many voices continue to speak out for the Floyds and Nichols and Banks of the world.

They are only three of the fallen ones, past and present, who die at the hands of police. When is enough, enough?

Dorothy Dempsey is a senior citizen who loves to write. She thanks God for allowing her to share this gift through published articles in The St. Louis American, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Belleville News, St. Louis Catholic Review, and in various books.

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