Those armed with the power of the government have repeatedly abused it and continuously oppressed those who possess characteristics different than the desired “norm.” Whether that be gender, race, religion, or sexuality, those who are different or “deviant,” have continuously been criminalized, struck down and brutalized from the streets in our own neighborhoods to the courtrooms in Washington, D.C.
Police brutality is symptomatic of the systemic obsession with power and control. A not-so-new phenomenon occurs under the concept of “law enforcement” which rationalizes the problematic overreach of the bounds of its authority. Overall, reports on what took place between an officer and “suspect” were left up to a crooked police force. Their accounts of interactions and the development of situations oftentimes represent the only tangible evidence of the events that took place. But now, with the prevalence of advanced technology and social media, acts of violence committed by police can be recorded immediately and shared in a matter of seconds. Now, we have access to multiple versions of these events; now we can gather millions of witness accounts of the blatant ongoing violence of police. And we are all watching.
These systematic abuses of power can no longer go unnoticed.
Sadly, keeping a close watch doesn’t make the problem go away. So, when the violence of the police comes knocking at the door of our own neighborhoods, we have a duty to Stand Up & Fight Back!
In the early hours of February 15, 2015, Lavall Hall, a 25 year old Black man diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was killed by Miami Gardens Police. Another fallen victim to unexamined abuses of violence and power by those who supposedly are here to protect us. He was having a schizophrenic episode when he exited the home that he shared with his mother and step-mother. Concerned, his mother, Catherine Daniels, attempted to call him back into the home. When he did not return, his mother chose to call law enforcement for assistance--as she had done several times in the past--in an attempt to calm him down and hopefully get him the help he needed. While on the phone with 911 and when police arrived at her home, Mrs. Daniels notified emergency personnel that her son had a mental illness, was having an episode, and was refusing to come back into the home.
Shortly after, Mrs. Daniels heard screeching tires outside of her home when the Miami Gardens Police Department arrived. Later she heard law enforcement officers yelling “we got him!” Thinking that law enforcement would then return to her home with her son to figure out next steps for his treatment, Mrs. Daniels returned to her home. But then she heard five loud, heart stopping gunshots.
Lavall’s body lay on the ground; shot twice by law enforcement, he died on the street, and was then handcuffed.
During a press conference, the former chief of Miami Gardens Police Department, Stephen Johnson, said that Lavall engaged in a physical altercation with his officers and refused to respond to their verbal commands. He confirmed that the officers first tased him twice and that after allegedly continuing to be combative with the officers they chose to take Lavall’s life. Former Chief Johnson reports that his officers did “the best they could do” with handling Lavall in his state of mental incapacitation.
For a long period of time, the Miami Dade State’s Attorney (Katherine Fernandez-Rudle), the Mayor of Miami Gardens (Oliver G. Gilbert III), and the Miami Gardens Police Department were refusing to release the audio and video of what took place that night; despite the former chief stating that the video shows that the shooting is justified. City officials were also refusing to release the autopsy to Lavall’s family, which has caused Ms. Daniels severe emotional stress.
And as yet another victim falls, we must ask ourselves, was this the best our police could do!?
In response, local South Florida Squads of Dream Defenders came together to support the family in the journey to #JusticeForLavall. Through our work as local community and youth organizers, we understand that Lavall Hall was a victim of the systemic issues affecting many people of color throughout South Florida communities as well as the rest of the state. And as Dream Defenders, it is our duty to fight these forms of injustices; for our lives and futures and those of our loved ones, all of which, under this oppressive and violent system, are always at stake. Together with the family of Lavall Hall we consistently raised our voices and demanded that these injustices stop!
As part of this cry for justice, Dream Defenders developed a campaign aimed at getting Miami Gardens Police Department and the City of Miami Gardens to release the dashboard-cam video that showed the nights’ events. Over the course of one month, community members, family, and local community organizers collected over 1,100 signatures and engaged with the Miami Gardens community in important and necessary conversations about Lavall Hall, mental health, and the use of excessive force by the police. After many hours of canvassing, after multiple actions to raise awareness about the situation plaguing not only Miami Gardens but numerous communities across the nation, and after several visits to Miami Gardens Commission meetings, the Mayor conceded that according to Florida Statute 406.136, Lavall's mother had an undeniable right to receive the video and audio surrounding her son's death. Finally, Ms. Catherine Daniels and the rest of the people who love "LaLa" can get some closure. And although this video doesn’t bring "LaLa" back, it provides a path toward justice for his life and an example of justice as part of his legacy.
Despite the biased reports of unjust media and police force, Lavall is remembered as a young man who was full of life, taken much too soon. He graduated from North Miami Beach High School and was getting his life on track. Friends have stated that Lavall was often the one that kept them out of trouble. He had a big heart and wanted the best for everyone around him, especially his daughter.
Overall, Justice for Lavall is a necessity; not only to heal the deep wounds in our communities in Miami Gardens and across the rest of Florida, but a reminder that we must remain forever vigilant, and that we can use our power to bring about the change we want to see in our communities and the rest of the world