When Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old father, was fatally shot in the back by an Atlanta police officer at a Wendy’s drive-through earlier this month, Monteria Robinson was forced once again to relive the worst moments of her life.
“I can speak for all the mothers that each time we see yet another police killing, it takes us back to when we lost our children. We feel that trauma all over again,” Robinson says. “It brings back all the pain. But most of our pain is anger because if they would have just listened to us or taken my son’s case seriously years ago, then maybe Rayshard would still be alive.”
“I wasn’t at Rayshard’s funeral, but I still cried with his family. I know their pain. I’ve been through their pain. I’m still going through that pain. I know what it’s like because my son is never coming home to me.”
In 2016, Robinson’s 26-year-old son Jamarion, a former student-athlete, was shot 59 times during a police raid in the East Point suburb of Atlanta. Despite mounting evidence that the officers had used unlawful force in the raid, not one of the 15 officers has been charged over the incident.
The death of George Floyd, who was killed last month when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes, has triggered mass protests across the United States demanding an end to police violence and systemic racism. For numerous families who have lost loved ones to police violence, the protests have renewed hopes that justice may finally be obtainable.
But for grieving Black mothers in Atlanta, city authorities’ promises and speeches against police brutality have rung hollow. Following the killing of Floyd, Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she was appalled by the incident. “When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt,” Bottoms said at the time.
But Robinson is not buying it.
‘They’re killing us here, too’
“It makes me so angry. They’re all going on the news and talking about George Floyd and how appalling his killing was,” Robinson says. “But you know what else is appalling? My son being shot 76 times [including exit wounds]. I know they’ve never seen someone shot that many times in their lives. How come that wasn’t also appalling to them?
“We all want justice for George Floyd. But why don’t they also talk about justice for Jamarion Robinson, for Jimmy Atchison, for Oscar Cain, and for so many others,” she adds, listing the names of those killed by police in Atlanta.
According to Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative, at least 1,098 people were killed by police in the US in 2019, and 509 people have been killed since the start of this year. Black people make up 28 percent of those killed by police since 2013, despite being only 13 percent of the population, and are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people.
Atlanta, often referred to as the country’s “Black Mecca,” owing to its strong Black upper and middle class and its numerous Black-owned businesses, is not immune to police violence. From 2013 until the end of 2019, Black people were killed at least 8.8 times the rate of white people by the Atlanta police department, according to Mapping Police Violence.
“I’m tired of seeing them on the news talking about how Atlanta is such a great place for Black people because it’s not,” Robinson says. “They’re killing us here, too.”
‘I haven’t been able to rest for four years’
Jamarion was Robinson’s first child and the first grandchild in the family. “When I had him, he was all of our baby,” Robinson recalls, sitting at a table in her home in northern Atlanta with folders and legal documents piled beside her.
“He was such a good kid growing up,” she continues. As an adult, Jamarion “was very playful. Every time we saw him he would always pick us up and spin us around and joke with us. He was smart, loving and giving. If he had $20 and someone didn’t have any money he would give them $10. That’s just the kind of person he was.”
Robinson chokes up as she remembers her son, dabs her eyes, and apologises profusely.
She is not often seen crying, and describes herself as a “warrior, a fighter, and a queen”. She has spent every waking moment of the last four years tirelessly working to get justice for her son.
“I never cry,” she explains, still trying to regain her composure. “But for some reason I’m crying today. Usually when you see me I’m a firecracker. You won’t see me cry in front of the media. That’s not me. I’m my son’s voice and no one can speak for him better than I can so I need to make sure everyone hears me loud and clear.”
But the long journey to get justice for Jamarion has taken an emotional toll on Robinson. “I have anxiety every single day and I only have a few hours of sleep each night,” she explains, her voice breaking. “Those officers are going home to their families each day; they’re sleeping fine and resting. I haven’t been able to rest for four years.”
On that fateful August day, a joint fugitive task force made up of more than a dozen officials from various local police departments and headed by the United States Marshals Service went to Jamarion’s girlfriend’s apartment, where Jamarion was at the time, with an arrest warrant that alleged Jamarion had pointed a firearm at two Atlanta police officers a week prior, which Robinson believes was a case of mistaken identity.
According to Robinson, on August 3, two days before Jamarion was killed, Steve O’Hare, an officer from the Atlanta police department who was assigned to apprehend Jamarion, called Robinson, asked to get in touch with her son and claimed that he was following up about a July incident when Robinson had called the police after Jamarion had poured gas in her home.
Robinson says she provided O’Hare with Jamarion’s girlfriend’s number and informed him of Jamarion’s diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and that he had gone off his medication, which O’Hare has also admitted to in a statement.
“I told him that he was a good kid, but he was suffering from a mental illness,” Robinson explains. “I was making plans to meet with the police and solve the issue because Jamarion was planning to return to school.”
But despite being informed of Jamarion’s struggle with mental illness, the officers arrived at the apartment, some of them armed with submachine guns, forced entry and fired approximately 99 shots, according to an expert disclosure report that has accompanied the family’s civil suit against five of the officers. They then proceeded to throw a flashbang at Jamarion, as he lay bloodied on the ground, and dragged his body down a flight of stairs and handcuffed him.