Family members shared stories of their Black male relatives killed in extrajudicial crimes, part of the Spirithouse Project’s first break the silence movement in D.C., April 22, at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street SW.

“This is not a press conference with famous people, this a press conference for the relatives of victims who have been murdered because we think they are the most important voices and their voices must be heard and respected as being the legitimate voice of this new movement,” Ruby Sales, founder and director of the Spirithouse Project told the {AFRO}.

The victims include Jack Lamar Roberson, 43, shot to death by police in Waycross, Ga. in 2013; Keaton Otis, 25, shot and killed by police in Portland, Ore. in 2010 and Nathaniel Lee III, 20, killed in Waycross by two convicted White felons in 2009.

“It is a rising problem,” Sales said. “These murders outnumber lynchings at its height in the 1890s and early 1900s, so we are facing a critical, critical problem of racialized violence and hate crimes in this country.”

Family members, who tearfully shared accounts of the victims’ final moments, are in D.C. to demand federal intervention for their loved ones’ cases. All proclaimed they would not stop speaking out about the injustices until some sort of justice is received. They said news reports mischaracterized the murders and the victims.

Spirithouse Project-based in Atlanta, Ga. also held a teach-in to discuss anti-Black crimes, worship service, and candlelight vigil.

The organization wants to spread awareness throughout the country, Sales said.

Moving forward, the organization will converse with groups whose mandate is to do citizen organizing, such as social justice organization Washington Peace Center in Northwest D.C.; and create campaigns on colleges, particularly the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University.

She said she hopes, in the long-run, to have a congressional hearing on anti-Black hate crimes.

Sales said that Black people in this country are viewed as disposable waste.

“We’re living in a world where the general consensus is that Black people are disposable wastes and that we add no value to the society except maybe those few Black people who are exceptional,” she said.

Sales said a Black person is murdered every 28 hours by a white law enforcement officer, security guard or vigilante.

“If they’re happening every 28 hours in this country, I say that necessitates a movement,” she said.

The movement to break the silence was sparked by the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013. Sales said she initially began the movement in 2007 after the suspicious murder of Billie Jo Johnson in Mississippi. Authorities classified his murder as a suicide.

“It’s terrorism when any organized or unorganized group of people attack Black people and it’s terrorism when an individual called a lone wolf, an individual actor carriers out a killing while wearing a uniform,” Chip Berlet, a former Senior Analyst for Political Research Association, a think tank in Boston, said at the conference.

For more information on anti-Black hate crimes or to assist with the movement go to or check out the “Breaking the Silence on Modern Day Lynching” on Facebook.

LaTrina Antoine

Special to the AFRO