Tawanda Jones, Kelly Davis and other Baltimore women have turned their pain into protest

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.



a person standing in front of a sign: Tawanda Jones and others gather in 2014 outside outside Baltimore police headquarters to protest the death of her brother Tyrone West -- on a much earlier "West Wednesday."


© Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
Tawanda Jones and others gather in 2014 outside outside Baltimore police headquarters to protest the death of her brother Tyrone West — on a much earlier “West Wednesday.”

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.



a person sitting on a table: Daphne Alston, left, co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, listens at a monthly community meeting in 2018 held at St. John Alpha and Omega Pentecostal Church. Alston's son, Tarik Sharif Alston, was fatally shot and killed at a party in 2008.


© Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
Daphne Alston, left, co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, listens at a monthly community meeting in 2018 held at St. John Alpha and Omega Pentecostal Church. Alston’s son, Tarik Sharif Alston, was fatally shot and killed at a party in 2008.

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

Baltimore Women’s March pushes message of ‘dissent’ ahead of presidential election

In the final days of a historic election season, young women linked arms Saturday with their mothers and matriarchs for the 2020 Women’s March through downtown Baltimore.



a couple of people that are standing in front of a sign: Kori Christian, left, and Arrion carry a sign together outside of City Hall. The 2020 Baltimore Women's March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020


© Ulysses Muu00f1oz/The Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
Kori Christian, left, and Arrion carry a sign together outside of City Hall. The 2020 Baltimore Women’s March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020

About 200 people gathered outside the federal courthouse in the 100 block of W. Lombard St. for the event, which has been held annually for about three years. Conceived during the presidency of Republican Donald J. Trump, the progressive grassroots movement has transitioned its battle cry of “resist” in 2017 to “dissent” in 2020 — emphasizing the role of women voters in the Nov. 3 election.



a group of people holding a sign posing for the camera: Morgan Stankiewicz and Karla Rivas hold signs and listen to the speakers outside of City Hall. The 2020 Baltimore Women's March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020


© Ulysses Muu00f1oz/The Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
Morgan Stankiewicz and Karla Rivas hold signs and listen to the speakers outside of City Hall. The 2020 Baltimore Women’s March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020

Organizers of the Baltimore event included representatives of Baltimore Women United, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and Planned Parenthood.

Women United co-chair Odette Ramos said organizers had three messages for the community Saturday: make a plan to vote, tell U.S. senators to delay any confirmations to the U.S. Supreme Court until after the January presidential inauguration, and volunteer to place phone calls to swing states leading up to the general election.



a man holding a microphone: Giuliana Valencia-Banks, of Baltimore Women United, speaks to the crowd outside of City Hall. The 2020 Baltimore Women's March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020


© Ulysses Muu00f1oz/The Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
Giuliana Valencia-Banks, of Baltimore Women United, speaks to the crowd outside of City Hall. The 2020 Baltimore Women’s March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020

Other women’s marches were held Saturday in dozens of U.S. cities, including Washington, New York and San Francisco.

The Baltimore event attracted dozens of women spanning multiple generations, some of who said they marched for their mothers or daughters. Some wore pink, knit hats and held homemade signs stating “Make America better” and “Not voting is not a protest, it’s surrender.”

Ramos wore a black mask with a white fringe — an homage to the signature lace collars worn by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — that she said her mother made for her.

Young women, in particular, represented a significant portion of those in attendance.

Elizabeth Polydefkis spent her 18th birthday Saturday marching alongside her mom to City Hall. The act of protest was “empowering,” she said.

“I’m scared for our democracy with Trump,” Polydefkis said. “Women have worked really hard for their rights. I’ve seen a lot of that work eroded in the past four years.”



a person sitting on a bench reading a book: A woman with a sign sits and listens to the speakers. The 2020 Baltimore Women's March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020


© Ulysses Muu00f1oz/The Baltimore Sun/The Baltimore Sun/TNS
A woman with a sign sits and listens to the speakers. The 2020 Baltimore Women’s March began outside of the U.S. District Courthouse and moved through downtown to City Hall. 10-17-2020

As the trail of activists wound through downtown, drivers honked horns in support. One