For 378 straight weeks, Tawanda Jones has told her brother’s story to anyone who will listen. She has bellowed his name into microphones and bullhorns to as many as thousands and as few as just a handful of supporters. During the coronavirus pandemic, she carried on the effort on YouTube.
Before the deaths of Freddie Gray and George Floyd brought widespread protests against racism and police brutality to the streets, Tyrone West died in the custody of Baltimore and Morgan State University police at a Northeast Baltimore traffic stop in 2013.
Four years later, the city and state paid his family $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging police misconduct and excessive force. But the medical examiner’s office ruled that the 44-year-old died from a heart condition exacerbated by the struggle with police and the summer heat. No officer was charged.
Jones has consoled grieving family members of Floyd, Michael Brown and Eric Gardner. She wants prosecutors in Baltimore and across the country to reopen police brutality cases and deliver justice for her “blood family,” whose relatives’ blood “has been on the hands of ‘Amurderca,’” she said.
“There’s no statute of limitation on murder,” said Jones, 42, who lives in White Marsh. “I’m never going to stop.”
Jones, a Baltimore County teacher, is one of several Baltimore activists who exemplify the conviction that women — and Black women, in particular, from Ida B. Wells to Rosa Parks — have contributed to peaceful protests throughout U.S. history.
Women’s activism, often sparked by personal experiences, represents a recognition of the many inequalities and injustices in their communities, said Adele Newson-Horst, coordinator of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Morgan State University.
“It is personal, and the personal is, in fact, political,” Newson-Horst said. “We are living the experience.”
It’s the same drive that inspired Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi to found Black Lives Matter. Initially a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2013 killing of Trayvon Martin, the movement has gained widespread support, particularly this summer, after video circulated of Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis.
“As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people,” the Black Lives Matter organizers say on their website.
‘I made them know who I am’
Iya Dammons stood in front of Baltimore City Hall under a glaring sun in June as hundreds of people joined in the largest