Last July, Tyrone West died while Baltimore City police were placing him under arrest. The officers involved in the incident were never charged. A joint investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Baltimore Police Department and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded that officers used reasonable force and that West’s death was caused by underlying health factors.
However, the story doesn’t end there.
Since then, West’s sister, Tawanda Jones, has launched a campaign against police brutality. She says there is not a day that goes by that she does not think about her brother, and that two recent incidents making national headlines – the death of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri, let her know there is still much work to be done.
“It just touched my heart,” she said about hearing of Michael Brown’s Aug. 9 shooting death. “This is not an isolated incident, it’s a systemic incident. The first thing that I thought was ‘Oh my God, now we got a young man who will never get to fulfill his dreams.’”
Jones says she was just as emotional when she heard about Garner’s death, which has been ruled a homicide.
Meanwhile, she is still mourning her brother, who she remembers as a gifted artist and loving uncle and father.
“My love and passion for my brother is the only thing that keeps me going,” she said. “They took my brother away. It’s tearing my family up. I go through restless nights. My body don’t even shut down. I wouldn’t wish this kind of pain on nobody’s family.”
The family has launched a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Baltimore City Police Department. They, along with the activist group Baltimore Bloc, also host an event called West Wednesdays, weekly walks in the city to peacefully protest brutality, and to inform the community of their rights. Jones tells young men and women to be careful in their interactions with police, and to call for backup if they feel they are in an unsafe situation.
“If you feel unsafe, call for backup,” she says. “My brother didn’t have that chance.”
Jones was also on hand when hundreds converged on downtown Baltimore, Aug. 14, to peacefully protest police brutality. She said the event gave her an opportunity to connect with others who also feel they have been victimized by the police.
“I got so many people here in our city who are suffering,” she said.
But, it was also positive – full of poetry and speeches from people of all races and all walks of life. “It was so beautiful.”
She will be traveling to New York soon to protest with Garner’s family. She has also reached out to people who witnessed Brown’s shooting via Facebook, offering to provide support.
“I always loved the community but I never thought I’d be in this predicament,” she says. “I never thought I’d be fighting against for police brutality.”