“Breaking News!” Another mother wails in horror as she kneels beside the body of her dead son. On Dec. 4, 2020, 23-year-old Casey Goodson was shot in the doorway of his …
“Breaking News!” Another mother wails in horror as she kneels beside the body of her dead son. On Dec. 4, 2020, 23-year-old Casey Goodson was shot in the doorway of his grandmother’s home by a Franklin County, Ohio, deputy sheriff, during what authorities called a “fugitive search”. We’ve now been told Casey Goodson was not a fugitive. But he is dead.
On Dec. 5, local television news reported the killing of a 19-year-old by St. Louis County sheriffs deputies in the woods of Mt. Iron. The sheriffs were reported to be in pursuit of a “suspected shoplifter”. At this time, we don’t know if Estavon Elliof was shoplifting. His is still an “open case” with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension so no details are being released. The mother waits, grieving her loss with little information on the incident that took her son’s life.
These are not just breaking stories. These are heartbreaking stories! Casey Goodson’s mother stated days later in an interview that she had watched other grief-stricken mothers but never imagined that she would someday be one of them. Her voice snapped me to attention. I was instantly gripped by sympathy for her, knelt down and wept.
In both cases, we’re told there were no witnesses nor body cam footage to help explain what happened. Police and coroner reports are still incomplete, confusing, or “unavailable”. Outside investigators have been called in as is customary but, in the meantime, everyone following these cases is just told to be “patient”. There has been so little coverage on Estavon Elliof’s case that most people I talk to don’t seem to know who or what I am talking about. And in my seeking more details, there’s nothing out there beyond the earliest sound bites.
It’s been a month now since that December afternoon when I was overwhelmed by shock and sorrow. I, like so many of us, after months of isolation know that longing for comfort through our moments of grief, that gnawing desire for someone to sit with us, listen, or just offer a hug. When I learned that a demonstration for Estavon Elliof was planned for last Saturday at the Hwy. 169 overpass in Virginia, I knew I had to be there.
Having attended gatherings like this before, I also wanted to carry a sign. Demonstrations are designed to create connection with people driving by through the messages we share. For me, this is often a difficult task. When I’m filled with emotion, I worry about choosing the right thing to say. Suddenly, a message surfaced from my past. Once, while present at an unexpectedly raucous wake, a man beside me uttered under his breath, “The dead are too soon forgotten.” His whispered message left an impression that day. It was clear now. My sign would read, “Estavon’s Life Matters!” His name should not be forgotten.
Kiara Yakita, a community activist from Ohio, sadly stated in an interview that Casey Goodson’s killing was “nothing new.” After joining in national actions throughout the summer following the killing of George Floyd, she expressed her anger and despair, marching for justice once again, this time in her own community. “We’re feeling helplessness, hopelessness and hurt.” She added, “It’s like we’re doing all this for nothing.”
A study conducted by Yale, Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine examined fatal police shootings from 2015 through the first quarter of 2020. It stated that annually, over 1,000 families share this experience with few signs of decrease despite increased use of body cameras and other mitigating strategies. Fatalities among black, indigenous, and other people of color were shown to be three times higher than that of whites. The numbers of fatalities are now so high that the words of that stranger are sadly true. Except for their families whose grief will never end, the names of the victims will, indeed, be “too soon forgotten”. My next question then is, “What do we do from here?”
Last June, the killing of George Floyd sparked rallies all across the country. Protesters chanted “Defund the Police” as one solution born out of frustration after years of ineffective efforts or empty promises for police reforms. Some argue that the choice of those words was merely intended to garner long-overdue attention. If that was its goal, it certainly succeeded! That short phrase triggered a firestorm of controversy and became a tool for some Republicans to attack Democratic candidates in the November election for their historical support for police reform. Their misuse of this chant is a good example of what’s known as “co-opting”, the act of taking something out of its original context, changing its meaning and focus, and using it to undermine its intended purpose. What was meant to be a clarion call for immediate action was manipulated for a counterproductive purpose. It’s important to understand that “Defund the Police” was always more than just a slogan. It was and remains a desperate plea from our communities of color for these killings to stop!
Unwillingness to look squarely at concerns of abuses of power within policing poses special challenges in the northland. Because of our history and demographics, many believe these problems only exist in urban areas where racial and ethnic differences are more apparent and therefore are not an issue here where the population still looks predominantly white. This is a false assumption. Whenever police use excessive or lethal force against citizens they are charged to protect, we should be concerned, whether here or in a large urban area.
On this issue, we cannot stand divided. If we are to survive as a nation, we must reject the false notion that a mother’s grief for Casey Goodson or Estavon Elliof is any different from what you or I would experience. With this in mind, I will be standing with the victim’s family and others who are calling on law enforcement officials for more information and accountability for Estavon Elliof’s death.