Mothers of Invention

The families of police-brutality victims build a movement

The death of their brother upended Joyce and Qing Lan's world. Because their parents mainly speak the Chinese dialect Toishanese, the burden of translation that immigrant kids shoulder is even weightier as Joyce and Qing Lan spread their family's story— and those of other brutality victims— across the city in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. This despite the fact, says Qing Lan, that "I don't like to speak in front of hundreds of people. But it happened to my brother."

The officer has never faced trial, but the city settled a civil suit, prompting the family to fund anti-police-brutality groups like the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. "Police brutality," says Joyce, "is happening to every community. It is happening to the Asian community. When Diallo was killed, I was sad, but not surprised. That's why we have to fight back together, every community together."

Evadine Bailey

Iris Baez
Andrew Lichtenstein
Iris Baez

Abner Louima lives around the corner from Evadine Bailey in East New York. The family of William Whitfield— shot by cops on Christmas Day, 1997— lives within three blocks. Kenneth Boss, who was named in the 1997 Halloween shooting death of Bailey's unarmed 22-year-old son, Patrick, is one of four cops indicted in the Amadou Diallo killing.

"The more stories I hear the more I realize it has to stop," says Bailey. "And the only way is if parents make it stop."

Barely 18 months since the death of her only son, Bailey has raised her voice at rallies around the city, including a recent protest by the newly formed Women for Justice that drew 500 to City Hall. "Sometimes it is painful," says Bailey of her new-found activism. "Sometimes it feels good. I remember Patrick going to the Abner Louima protests."

She echoes a complaint made by many parents: "I have heard it over and over, district attorneys do not like to indict cops." Her family accuses Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes of ignoring witnesses who say officers gunned down Patrick.

Boss's role in the Diallo shooting has brought attention to Patrick's killing and renewed the family's fighting spirit. Last week, Bailey's husband, Lloyd, was arrested at One Police Plaza, and their 25-year-old daughter, Lorraine, helped to prepare a civil suit against the city. Says Bailey, "When I meet so many parents and I listen to their stories I just want to cry and never stop. It keeps me going."

Milta Calderon

Milta Calderon smiles as she recounts her arrest at One Police Plaza last week. In jail, she and a group of women found themselves next to a band of male protesters. "To our surprise, the men were behaving, and the women were shouting and chanting," she says.

For Calderon, it's been a remarkable journey from grief to activism. Her son, Anibal, was killed by a cop from the Street Crime Unit on January 25, 1995, blocks from her Flatbush home. For the first few months after her son's death, she recalls, "I wasn't there." A sister's words pulled her from thoughts of suicide. "She told me, 'You can't grieve, you have to fight for your son.' " Calderon, along with her youngerson Mario, began canvassing the neighborhood, turning up contradictions in the official version. The police reported that 21-year-old Anibal was shot after assuming a "shooter's crouch." He turned out to be unarmed, and an autopsy showed he had been shot in the back.

"It was hard. Words didn't from my mouth; I didn't say the things I felt," says Calderon. But the effort kept her going. "I felt if I wasn't out there, he'd be forgotten."

The police officer who shot Anibal was not indicted. Still, Mario holds onto his lifelong dream of being a cop. "Working on the inside, we can make changes," he says. But his mother now believes "this whole system has to change." Last week in jail, a police officer asked her, "Do you plan to commit suicide?" Calderon replied, "No. We have a long way to go to get justice."

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