Collette Flanagan and her daughter Chaedria LaBouvier of Mothers Against Police Brutality delivered the Claiming Williams keynote last Thursday night, which was open to the public.
Flanagan’s life was fundamentally changed almost two years ago on March 13, 2013, when she received a knock on the door and was told that her 25-year-old son, Clinton Allen, had been shot and killed by a Dallas police officer with a history of excessive force. Allen was unarmed. In response, Flanagan and her daughter, LaBouvier, founded Mothers Against Police Brutality. Since then, the pair has been relentless in the campaign against police brutality in the United States. “I didn’t choose this fight,” Flanagan said. “It chose me.”
Flanagan and LaBouvier was introduced by Sharifa Wright, the director for alumni diversity and inclusion, who asked those assembled to reflect, as they listened, “on not only what it means to claim Williams, but what it means to be human.”
LaBouvier stressed the human element of the struggle against police brutality that she has taken up. She intended to speak, she said, not about statistics, but about what she knows best: the personal, her own individual story. She described how, after the death of her brother, which was ultimately declared a homicide, she “was overwhelmed by the love and grief I had for Clinton.” The “bullets that ripped through Clinton,” as he was shot a full seven times, she said, hurt her entire family.
In telling this story, LaBouvier sought to give a human face to an issue that, until recently, was relatively unknown to many people. “Many of you were probably shocked,” she said about the outcome of the trials of the police officers who allegedly killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. In both of these 2014 cases, the officers were not indicted. For too long, LaBouvier said, most people have dismissed the issue of police brutality as “the problem of the black, the poor, the uneducated” so that most people’s gut reaction upon hearing of a police shooting has been to ask what the victim had done wrong. This dismissiveness, according to LaBouvier, is also due to the “privilege of whiteness,” which allows white Americans to “dissociate from the collective” when controversial issues become too uncomfortable. LaBouvier sympathized with the difficulties of overcoming this discomfort, “I know how hard it is,” she said, “to have hard conversations.” Nonetheless, she continued, we all have a “responsibility … to go into the world with ready minds and hearts.” There is a real need, she said, to be “radical,” because in terms of creating a just society, we are “four hundred years behind.” Ultimately, LaBouvier asked the crowd only to “go in love.”
Flanagan, too, stressed the need for the audience and the nation at large to take actions that will help put an end to police brutality. She asked the crowd to contact their political representatives and demand action on issues such as police drug-testing, as no regular testing of officers is required in most places; lapel cameras, which would allow for greater public surveillance of law enforcement activities and better records of police activities. “We must all take a stand,” she said, adding that the fight must continue “until we can feel confident that our families our safe.” She concluded, “If this broken mother can pick up the pieces … you certainly can contribute.”
Following their speeches, LaBouvier and Flanagan answered questions from the crowd, and at 9:30 p.m., many of the listeners joined in the final event of Claiming Williams day, a solidarity walk around campus.