They Were Sons

Judges praised "They Were Sons" for painting “a full picture of the men who died and what it means to lose them,” and for showing the reader the “human shaped holes in the lives of their mothers.” They called the “powerful, first-person storytelling” “unfiltered and unvarnished,” and praised its ability to “capture pride and pain at the same time,” providing a “sense of all that lingers for families after the headlines and social media outrage passes.” They applauded Rita Omokha's “self-effacement and courage,” calling her work “a profound exercise of journalistic responsibility” and “an act of refusal of the easy reporting path.” Originally published by Vanity Fair on May 6, 2021.

Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and many more Black men, all slain by police. Ahead of the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, their mothers speak out about the grief they bear and the lives their children lived.

Fifteen days after Mother’s Day last year, George Floyd lay facedown, arms bound, calling for his mother with his final breaths. She had died two years earlier, but as he lay on the pavement, a white police officer’s knee compressing his airways for over nine minutes, his oxygen-deprived brain reached for a symbol of safety and compassion. He made the longing appeal a child invokes for all the things “mama,” and only “mama,” could provide.

A year later, 15 mothers from across America who lost their Black sons at the hands of police speak out about life after tragedy—about what happens when the demonstrations, cameras, hashtags, and viral moments fade. When the tragedy is not our own, we can turn the television off, log out of Twitter and Instagram, and walk away, perhaps shaking our heads in disgust. The survivors bear the burden for a lifetime.

Some of the mothers, wishing they could have protected their children from such cruelty, wondered if their sons, too, called out for them with their last breaths. They heard Floyd’s cries as a charge to continue fighting for police accountability and protesting the senseless deaths of Black and brown men and women disproportionately killed by officers—killings no longer shocking in America, with its racist criminal-justice system and public policies. In the last decade, roughly 8,000 people of color had fatal encounters with police, more than half of them Black men. Last year alone, 24% of people whose deaths occurred in the presence or at the hands of police were Black, though roughly 13% of the population is Black.

Year after year, families of color suffer such trauma, joining a growing group of survivors. Most then endure the sullying of their child’s name to justify the killing: He sold loosies; he had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system; he had an outstanding warrant. Other times, the victims were simply living: He was leaving his bachelor party; he was standing near his apartment building; he was heading home after a night out with friends. Only in a system that paints people of color, disproportionately Black men, as the embodiments of threat, and police as above the law—shielded by qualified immunity—can that narrative exist. Parents of color must now instill fear of the uniform in their children. Put your hands on the dash. Speak calmly and politely. Don’t make any sudden moves. Say “Yes, sir” and “No, officer.” Even then, their child may not make it home.

Here, surviving mothers, now unlikely activists, share the impact of such heartbreak. Like George Floyd, some of their sons have become lasting symbols of America’s virulent subjugation and police brutality: Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Eric Garner. Others didn’t draw international headlines, but their families’ anguish and grief is just as devastating. These mothers tell the stories of the sons they lost, the lives they led, and the sorrow they—the survivors—still endure.

Click on the linked names below to read the corresponding interview.


Kadiatou Diallo: Amadou Diallo, 23, February 4, 1999


Image may contain Face Human Person Clothing Apparel Hat and Finger
Photograph by Devin Allen

The last time Amadou called me was on January 31, 1999. I was in Conakry, Guinea, in West Africa. He was in New York City. He said, “I’m so happy right now.” He told me about a girl he was interested in, and then he said, “I’ve finally saved enough money! I’m ready to go to college, mama.” Four days later, he would be dead.

Amadou was a dreamer. One of his dreams was to go to school in New York City. When he graduated from Alliance Française high school—a school for diplomats’ children in Bangkok—he was ready to study computer science. He found his way to America, and as an immigrant, you must start from somewhere. But that’s the thing, Amadou didn’t have to; his father was a wealthy businessman. He came from privilege. But that was Amadou, always independent, always wanting to do things on his own. So that’s why when the media portrayed him as just another immigrant street vendor, that was furthest from the truth. He was more than that.

When he was a toddler, I would always struggle to feed him. He would refuse my hand to his mouth. He wanted to feed himself, and I would let him. And of course, every time, he would pour the food all over himself. The funny thing is, he would be satisfied by doing so, smiling and sometimes laughing. So when he told me, on our last call, that he had saved $9,000 to enroll in his computer science program, I wasn’t surprised. When Amadou tells you he’s going to do something, just believe him.

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Yard Outdoors Nature Plant Grass Vegetation and Karim Mayfield
Courtesy of Kadiatou Diallo

He used to love watching all those sports back then—the basketball, the soccer World Cups. It wasn’t like he played any of them, but you’d see him outside with his friends coaching them. Telling them, “No, do it like this. No, put your leg here. No, no, there.” He was such a leader, like an old, wise man. He’d always be reading his newspapers, always curious about religions, and loved chakery (a traditional dish with couscous and yogurt) and jollof rice. As the firstborn, he was the leader at home too. Being a child of separation, he took ownership and responsibility in the house, telling his siblings what to do. I would watch him with them and was so proud of the man he was becoming.

There’s always an empty seat at our dining table now. When I look at my other sons, when I hear their voice, see their smile, I see Amadou. Those moments are the hardest because I have no choice. I just have to go through it. Every year I always wish February 4 would never come. It’s as if for the whole day, I’d just stop breathing. I’d relive the moment I received the call from my relative in New York telling me Amadou was dead. I’d remember the panic attack, the crying, the heartache, the shock. It’s the same emotions all over. Like it just happened. Then weeks later, I come back to life. Slowly.

Amadou would’ve been a great father and husband; he was already the best son and brother. What helps me cope is his memory, sharing who my son was, what he wanted to accomplish, and giving scholarships to young African students through the foundation I started in his name. This helps and sustains me. I’m Muslim, and I still have my faith. I pray five times a day, and every time, I send Amadou a prayer.

Valerie Bell: Sean Bell, 23, November 25, 2006


Image may contain Human Person Room Indoors Furniture Wood and Couch
Photograph by D'Angelo Lovell Williams

We waited for hours and hours at Jamaica Hospital that morning. When we finally saw him in the morgue, his arm was handcuffed to the bed. Out of the 50 bullets the officers fired at him, four struck him; two hit major organs. He died at 4:56 a.m. on his wedding day. Later that morning, with the numbness and daze of it all, I still went to the beauty parlor for my hair appointment. It was my son’s big day, and it just hadn’t sunk in. There wasn’t going to be a wedding.

A month earlier, the last Sunday in October, he called and said, “Ma, I want to get married.”

I said, “Okay? When, Sean?”

“Next month.”

“Next month, when?” I couldn’t believe it. I would only have one month to plan this wedding? But I knew he was ready to be the father he knew he needed to be for his two daughters.

“In November.”

Sean was an old soul, so laid-back and quiet. He was a rising star in baseball—he was getting scouted by a major team. He was a pitcher, left fielder, and right fielder. He’d played since he was six. The first time I’ve ever been to a baseball game was his. The first time I went to Yankee Stadium was to watch his school team play there. He was good with his hands too. When he was 13, he took apart our home radio, and I said, “Sean! What did you do?” And he said, “Ma, I got this. I’m gonna put it back together.” And he did. He had just passed his electrical apprenticeship when he was taken from us.

Image may contain Clothing Apparel Human Person Grass Plant Coat Overcoat Porch Suit Patio Jacket and Blazer
Photograph by D'Angelo Lovell Williams

I still cry every day. Would he be in pro baseball? Would he be an electrician? Would he have had more children? It’s funny because his two daughters love the same foods he loved, so I cook it for them all the time: mac and cheese, potato salad, and sweet potato pie. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, and especially on his birthday, I make it. Being around his daughters can be hard too, because I think about all the moments he missed. The graduations. The sweet 16 for his eldest. She’s 18 now. All the things a father looks forward to.

But I thank God I have them to remember him; they’ve kept me going. His oldest is just like him: Sean would never say, “Ma, can I go to this or that place?” No. It was, “Ma, I'm going!” Through his death, he gave me more life. I was a very quiet person, didn’t go anywhere much besides church and work. Now I go out and speak and support families like ours when I can. Those officers who got away with killing my son must see me or read about the pain they’ve caused. It’ll hit their conscience knowing they did something wrong. That’s my justice.

We buried Sean in his wedding tuxedo on December 1, 2006. The repast was held at what would have been his wedding site and reception hall.

Darlene Cain: Dale Graham, 29, October 28, 2008


Image may contain Clothing Sleeve Apparel Human Person Christopher Michael Holley Face Long Sleeve and Finger
Photograph by Devin Allen

Dale’s 30th birthday was hard for me. I was looking forward to planning a party because it was a big deal for him. I was already thinking about all the food and drinks I’d get. He used to come over the house and ask me to make him his favorite sandwich: turkey and bacon on potato bread. And I used to be like, I can’t believe this boy is coming all the way over here just for this sandwich. There was this seafood salad he loved too. He’d be telling all his friends, “Look, my mom makes the best seafood salad,” and tell them I’d make it for them before he’d even tell me. I would always be like, Well, I guess I’m making this dish for all these people then. He was something else. He was always thinking about his family and how he could help people. Before he started law school at the University of Baltimore and interning at the NAACP, he created a prison resource guide to help people who recently got out of jail to know their rights. Every year on my birthday, he’d be the first person to bring me my cake and my card in bed. He’d want me to cut the cake right away, and I’d tell him, “It’s eight o’clock in the morning, I’m not cutting this cake; it’s too early, Dale.” He was always trying to find excuses to celebrate something or have some kind of party, even when we didn’t have any money. He’d come up with a list and have everybody do a potluck, and it always turned out. He loved everyone hard and was so well loved. Life can never be the same. All the dreams he had, all the hopes I had for him, all of it was stolen from us.

Wanda Johnson: Oscar Grant, 22, January 1, 2009


Image may contain Clothing Apparel Sleeve Human Person Dress Long Sleeve Home Decor and Outdoors
Photograph by Dannielle Bowman

When my father had a stroke and lost the use of his left side, we teased Oscar that he became my dad’s left side. Because whatever my dad couldn’t do, Oscar would do. He’d be out on the lawn cutting the grass, sneezing and sniffing because of his allergies, never complaining.

Image may contain Human Person Face People and Smile
Courtesy of Wanda Johnson

When we lived in San Leandro, we lived above someone. One day I came home, and I thought, It’s cold in this house. Our balcony sliding door was open with a cord going to the apartment below. I unplugged it. Minutes later, the neighbors knocked on our door and asked for Oscar. “He’s not home,” I told them. The neighbors told me Oscar was allowing them to use our electricity until they could pay their PG&E bill that month. When Oscar got home, I fussed at him: “Why didn’t you tell me all this time? You causing my PG&E to go up.” But I thought, How gracious. Even if it was at my expense, the kind of heart to see that need and want to help. That a family’s refrigerator full of food may go bad.

After he got his GED, he worked for a grocery store in Oakland. One day he calls and tells me some lady at the store didn’t know how to cook the fish she was about to buy. Oscar had just met her, and he wanted to make sure she could get that fish cooked properly. It may seem silly, but that was Oscar, always helping somebody, always happy, trying to lend a hand, so full of love.

When he found out he and Sophina were pregnant, he bought two big ol’ pink flags that said “IT’S A GIRL” and put them on his car. As he drove, they would be flying all over the place. It was so funny. He didn’t care if we laughed at it or him, he was just so excited about becoming a father.

That last New Year’s Eve day together, Oscar had called me that morning to wish me a happy birthday; he loved celebrations, holidays, birthdays, any excuse to give gifts. Oscar, Sophina, and Tatiana—she was four by then—all came over to my house later. He brought me a couple of crabs, and I made some gumbo. Oscar had three bowls and was working on a fourth. I placed my empty bowl on the counter, and when I turned around, it was full again. And I looked at him like, Wait a minute! He started cracking up because he had gotten full and poured his into my bowl to make it seem like he ate his. I still get a good laugh over that. After we had the carrot cake they bought me, Tatiana started crying. She wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese. To calm her down, Oscar gave her $1 and promised he would take her the next day. He never got to do that.

He didn’t deserve to have his life taken so senselessly. But it makes my heart so glad that God allowed me to be Oscar’s mother for the 22 years I got to be his mother.

Dionne Smith-Downs: James Rivera Jr., 16, July 22, 2010


Image may contain Furniture Couch Living Room Room Indoors Cushion Home Decor Human Person and Skin
Photograph by Danielle Bowman

The night before James was killed, I took him to McDonald’s. He had a fish filet sandwich and large fries—that’s the last meal I know my son ate. By the next morning, he was gone. James died a day before his birthday. Days before that, he told me he wanted a party. I said, “I got you, don’t worry about it. Mama gotchu.” I pawned my ring for his party; he didn’t know that. Growing up, James had special needs—he was better at explaining things with his hands. He was growing out of it as a teen, but I still had my concerns and tried to guide him. He liked to work on dirt bikes and motor scooters, fixing them up and riding them. He also liked assembling things. Back then we had a family store where we sold furniture, tables, beds, bars, cabinets, wall units, you name it. When the parts arrived at the store, James was the one putting them together for display or going to people’s homes to assemble them. He was also good at knowing what needed to be done with cars. Now when I need new brakes, I’m like, James is not here to tell me what to do. The police think they can take our children and just give us money to say, “Here, it’s okay.” None of what is going on with our babies is ever going to be okay. Throughout my settlement conversations, I told them, “I want justice. I want a trial, not your money. Or you could give me my son back, and I would walk up on out of here.” I miss my son dearly. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about James, about what he’d become as an adult or father.

Constance Malcolm: Ramarley Graham, 18, February 2, 2012


Image may contain Skin Human Person Clothing Apparel Sleeve Anna Diop and Tattoo
Photograph by D'Angelo Lovell Williams

When I look at that surveillance tape and see Marley walking in the house where he thought he’d be safe, where he’s supposed to be safe, it hits me every time: That was his last day on earth. He was at that age where he was getting to be into himself. He got really into dressing up, always getting haircuts and shape-ups. He had that pretty hair too. When he’d get it cut real low, it had that soft wavy look. He’d stand real close to me—he could be such a jokester—and brush it real slow, all dramatic. He’d say, “Look at me. Look at me.” Definition: I got a haircut, and now I look fly. Marley loved his baby brother, Chinnor. They’d play all their video games together. When Chinnor was getting beat up at school, Marley started teaching him how to box and lift weights, telling him he had to protect himself. Marley wasn’t all that athletic. He was more into animals and anything to do with nature, always watching Animal Planet. Right after Marley was murdered, I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I was no longer myself. I didn’t go out with friends; I didn’t want to be around anyone. The pain is always there. I work in a nursing home, so I buried myself in work. Before COVID, I had two jobs just so I didn’t have time to be alone with my thoughts. Working helps keep my mind busy, distracted. Otherwise, the depression is harder. On those days I don’t get out of bed.

Toni Taylor: Cary Ball Jr., 25, April 24, 2013


Image may contain Human Person Finger and Wood
Photograph by Jon Cherry

Cary was my firstborn. He never gave me any problems, even when he was being potty trained or I was waking him up to go to school. He loved school so much. He was on the honor roll right from kindergarten all the way to college. When Cary was killed, he [had just been] inducted into the Emerging Scholars Program—May 1, 2013, was going to be the ceremony. Instead, I buried him that day. I miss him so much. I do my best to hold on to the spirit of him, the relationship we shared. Birthdays are the hardest. On those days we all think about life. As a mother, you think about how you once shared the same heartbeat with your child. Cary would be 33. I always wonder what he’d look like now. Would he have a beard like his dad? Would he have gone bald? Every day is like that. There was a time right after his death where I wasn’t even making sense to myself. It was like losing my mind. I would get dates wrong for someone’s wedding or show up days early to someone’s birthday party. People say, “Oh, time will heal you.” It doesn’t. It’s worse because I don’t have justice.

Pamela Fields: Donte Jordan, 39, November 10, 2013


Image may contain Skin Human Person Accessories Accessory Necklace Jewelry Plant Clothing and Apparel
Photograph by Texas Isaiah
Image may contain Human Person and Finger
Photograph by Texas Isaiah 

Every year, when November is coming, I try my best to get ready. Last year I even got on medication because I didn’t want to go through what I knew was coming. After Donte’s death day, there’s Thanksgiving. Then there’s Christmas. And then four days after Christmas is his birthday. I always wish I could go to sleep on October 31 and not wake up until the new year. This Thanksgiving and Christmas was the first time we celebrated as a family since we lost Donte. And we couldn’t celebrate like we wanted to because of COVID. Getting together without him hit me so hard. Every day I would look around and think, My baby’s really gone. Donte was the father I never had, the husband and best friend I wished I always had. He’d help with home errands, organizing the bills, my car tags—he was always on me about something. If you were around Donte, you learned something; he was a philosopher, a real baby Malcolm X. Right after he got killed, I couldn’t focus on anything; I stopped working for a while. I try to stay busy now, to keep from thinking about all of it. I’m on five different medications and suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I’m always anxious about something. A part of me went to heaven that day. I have to accept the fact that it’s never going to get better. This pain, this emptiness, it’s my new normal.

Vickie Williams: Tinoris Williams, 31, April 7, 2014


Image may contain Human Person Furniture Chair Clothing Apparel and Couch
Photograph by Johanne Rahaman

That first year after Tinoris died, I couldn’t get out of bed. My life changed; my family has not been the same. We were close-knit. I am a mother of eight, and he was a father of two. His son is on the honor roll in high school, and his daughter graduated and got a full ride to the University of Florida. They’re following in his footsteps. Tinoris was so bright. I bragged on him when he skipped seventh grade and went straight to high school. The officer who murdered him knew Tinoris struggled with mental illness. He was the same officer who would pick him up when we called to have him involuntarily committed. We wanted him to get help, not killed for his struggles. We loved Tinoris through his illness and treatment. I still don’t know how to make sense of how the system treated him. They made him into a “suspect,” a “criminal,” and he was none of that. There’s no real way to cope because I am forever short a child. Fighting against police brutality, the murders, and over-policing is my life now. No amount of money is enough for Tinoris’s life. No amount can take the pain away, or the false hope I still have sitting at home waiting to see him come through the door. When he was little, he used to be real bossy and picky. He had these cowboy boots he always used to wear. He didn’t care if he had on a pair of shorts—he’d put on those boots. He had a special barber too. When we went to the shop and he wasn’t there, Tinoris wasn’t getting his hair cut. When he got older, he still enjoyed being in charge. His sisters would get in the car and ask him, “Where we going?” He’d say, “Don’t worry, just sit back and ride.” It’s one of those memories we still laugh at because we’d just let him ride.

Gwen Carr: Eric Garner, 43, July 17, 2014


Image may contain Couch Furniture Human Person Clothing Apparel and Sitting
Photograph by D'Angelo Lovell Williams

Eric was so protective of his little sister, Ellisha. When she was in sixth grade, and he was in 11th, she was on the phone one night, and she hollered at me: “Ma! Eric hung up the phone! I was talking to my friend, and he hung the phone up.” Back then we just had landline phones; we didn’t have cell phones or anything.

Eric said, “Yeah, I hung the phone up. She was talking to a boy.”

Ellisha yelled back, “Well, ma, he was my classmate, and I was getting the homework.” Eric wasn’t having any of that: “Ma, she ain’t got no business talking to no boy, ’cause she still seeing a pediatrician.”

He was funny that way. Eric was attending Automotive High School at the time and into cars. He wanted to open garages to fix foreign cars—with his upper respiratory condition, he couldn’t pursue it the way he wanted.

At family gatherings everyone used to wait for him to come because he would be the life of the party, always making jokes, always saying something crazy that’d make us laugh. He would always be late. We’d all look at each other, waiting on him, and just be like, “He’s on Eric’s time again. He’ll get here when he get here.”

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Skin Jacket and Coat
Carr with Eric Garner's sister Ellisha. Photograph by D'Angelo Lovell Williams

That summer day I was at work at the NYC Transit. I operated the train from Coney Island to Astoria. When we ride, we can’t have our phones on. When I got to Astoria, I had a 35-minute layover. So I sat on a bench for my break and finally took out my phone. I had all these messages. Something happened to Eric, but no one knew what. All the voice and text messages were just saying Eric had some kind of encounter with the police. I called my husband, and he said he’d meet me back at Coney Island. Back on the train, my phone was back to being off, and I’m just thinking, What could it be? What could it be?

In the car with my husband, he was quiet. I was anxious, confused, and was asking over and over: “Did you hear anything? Did you hear anything more about Eric?” He said, “No.” And I’m still going: “Then why are all these people calling me?” He broke down and told me Eric was no longer with us.

I lost my mind right there. I tried to kick out the windshield. I was trying to get out of the car because, at that moment, it seemed like I could run to Staten Island faster than that car could get me there. My husband had the child lock on, so I couldn’t get out the car anyway.

He took me home—he knew I couldn’t handle the hospital. I went upstairs to my room and just blanked everybody out. It was the darkest day of my life. And then came that grand jury decision, where it seemed like they were killing Eric all over again.

I still smile when I remember his jokes and how lovable he was. If I could see him one more time, I would tell him that I love him. That I miss him. And that he’s always going to be in my heart. That I will fight for him until the day I die.

Rahimah Rahim: Usaamah Rahim, 26, June 2, 2015


Image may contain Wood Couch Furniture Human Person Sitting Plywood Hardwood Clothing and Apparel
Photograph by Philip Keith

Usaamah loved him some fried eggs; he even bought one of those Teflon-coated pans. When he made his eggs, he’d be coddling them, trying to get the perfect shape. He’d make some for me, but it always took, like, 20 minutes. I miss all his little jokes. He was the youngest of five and would sometimes nudge me in that playful way and say, “Mom, I know I’m your favorite,” or, “When I get married, I’m going to have a lot of little Usaamahs running around, and you’re going to have to babysit them.” I used to be like, “No, Usaamah, your mother is not a babysitter.” Usaamah was so kind, always doing for others. He used to go to Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner from our house every day and get me a vanilla chai. That’s my favorite. After he was killed, I went there to see if anyone had cell phone footage of the shooting—it was across from the CVS he was shot down in front of. I showed the picture to people working there. One of the girls started crying. She said, “I remember him. He always wanted a vanilla chai for his mom.” I said, “Yeah, that’s my son.”

Kimberly Davis: Kimoni Davis, 19, June 29, 2015


Image may contain Furniture Couch Home Decor Human Person Indoors Interior Design Clothing Apparel and Shelf
Photograph by Cydni Elledge

Unfortunately, Kimoni was a Green Bay Packers fan. I used to get on him about that, like, “Where did that come from?” He was my only child and dreamed of starting his own fashion line. He became a father at 14; his son is a spitting image of him. Not only did the police take Kimoni away, they took my grandson’s father away. His son is now left with unanswered questions that will follow him for the rest of his life: “Why is my father not here? Who took my father away from me?” When I saw my son laying on the hospital bed that day, I didn’t recognize him. He was already gone. I was forced to take him off life support. I watched my son die in my arms. When I realized I would never see his eyes open again, it was a mental war, a death sentence. That feeling never went away; I’m in pain every day. I wish I could’ve seen him walk down the aisle with his big, contagious smile. These children that officers are killing, they’re not just our babies, they’re future doctors, lawyers; they’re members of the community that will never get to play their part.

Adrienne Hood: Henry “Bubby” Green V, 23, June 6, 2016


Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Hat and Face
Photograph by Lawrence Agyei

Bub played all the sports growing up. By sixth grade, he came to me and said, “Mom, I think I found my sport. I really like basketball.” Bub made Jayden, his little brother, a phenomenal three-point shooter because he would always pack his shot. They would be playing in the backyard, and Jayden would come in crying, “Bub keep packing my shot.” I used to say, “So what are you gonna do about it?” I think Jayden realized he could never beat Bub to the rim, so he got really good at shooting from a distance. It’d be easy to hate those cops who robbed me of him, but I refuse to. I will not give up my energy to people who don’t deserve it. I’ve learned how to love on myself because the wounds don’t heal. To take breaks. And honestly, to feel again. About two years after Bub was killed, I joined the Grief Recovery Institute. That helped me start processing my emotions in a healthy way. I still do group counseling every Tuesday. There are days when those gut punches come, and I feel myself sinking into depression. I hear his voice and try to hold on to the good times. He and his siblings used to test my gangsta and try to get one over on me; he’d joke and say, “Ma, c’mon, you ain’t no punk!” The day we brought him home, we told his sister, “This is your new baby brother.” She looked at him and said, “My new baby bubby!” I said, “No, your new baby brother.” “Mm-mm, my new baby bubby! My new baby bubby!” And it just stuck. It didn’t help that he had luscious cheeks.

Kim Thomas: Earl Shaleek Pinckney, 20, August 7, 2016


Image may contain Necklace Jewelry Accessories Accessory Human Person Plant Flower Blossom and Face
Photograph by Phobymo

Sha got shot standing right next to me, inside our home. He was my baby son; I had five children. All his siblings took it hard. They still do. I still don’t have an answer to why that police officer did what he did. It’s going on five years, and I’m just now getting myself together. His urn sits on my living room table, and I cry every day. I light a candle daily in remembrance of him. When he started going to school at Job Corps, he’d come home excited and tell me, “I’mma make you proud of me, Mom.” And I’d say, “Sha, you got this.” And he made me proud. He had bipolar disorder and was getting treated by a doctor. He got his diploma, got all the certificates he needed; he was on his way to becoming all he dreamt of. He and his friend were planning to open a car shop together. His friend ended up opening it, but Sha didn’t get to see all his hard work pay off. That’s what he’s supposed to be doing now, and raising his daughter. Sha always got me gifts; it didn’t have to be a holiday or my birthday. A flower, a necklace, a bracelet, anything to show he was thinking of me. He would always kiss me on my forehead, and I’d say, “Boy, why you always gotta kiss me on my forehead?” I live with a half heart now.

Guerlyne Felix: Matthew Felix, 19, February 25, 2020


Image may contain Furniture Human Person Chair Flooring Hardwood Wood Clothing and Apparel
Felix with Matthew's sister Samantha. Photograph by D'Angelo Lovell Williams

Matthew was tall for his age when he was younger, and he took to basketball. He’d be outside playing ’til all hours of the night. As he got older, he didn’t grow much, and to be a basketball player you have to be a giant. He turned that passion into music; he was my budding rapper. He was so talented. When I pass by his room now, the door is usually locked, but sometimes I go in there and sit. Other times I half expect him to come out. After the divorce, he was my support system, my protector, and for a while, after Samantha went off to college, it was just the two of us. When he was a child, I’d be watching TV upstairs, and he’d be downstairs, and he always made a point to check on me and spend time with me before going back down. He was so loving, so quiet and shy, and very attached to me. I relied on him a lot. During those snowstorms, he’d be the one to shovel. He always took out the garbage—I didn’t even have to ask him. He was my friend. We hung out, went to the gym together. When I go to the supermarket and see the cereal he likes, I see him. When I saw that George Floyd video, it triggered me so much. I was thinking, Did Matthew cry for me? Did he know he was going to die? As a parent, you’re supposed to be your child’s protector. I wasn’t there to protect Matthew, and to this day I still don’t know what happened to him. I don’t even know the officers who took him away from me. That will stay with me for a lifetime. If not by the grace of God, I would not be here.