Police violence upended the lives of these families attending Biden’s State of the Union
First Lady Jill Biden and several members of Congress have invited family members of victims of police violence to attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on 7 February.
At least 10 families of Black victims of police violence – including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, George Floyd and Eric Garner, among others – were invited to attend the president’s remarks at the US Capitol, where criminal justice advocates anticipate his renewed support for legislation to overhaul use-of-force policies in police departments across the country.
RowVaughn Wells, the mother of Tyre Nichols, and his stepfather Rodney Wells, will sit in Ms Biden’s box during the speech. Vice President Kamala Harris attended Nichols’ funeral in Memphis last week, three weeks after he was fatally beaten by a group of Memphis Police Department officers who were subsequently fired and charged with second-degree murder.
“President Biden has made clear that we must take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again,” according to a statement from the White House announcing Ms Biden’s guest list.
Democratic US Rep Cori Bush of Missouri invited Michael Brown Sr, the father of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was killed in Ferguson in 2014.
That shooting and the unrest that followed galvanised an international Black Lives Matter movement, which inspired Ms Bush to organise and run for office.
“The police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 is what propelled me and many others into lives dedicated to building a world where Mike would still be here with us – a world where his life could not be taken from him,” she said in a statement. “A world where Tyre Nichols and the thousands of other Black people killed by police could live long, healthy lives full of joy.”
Michael Brown Sr said that “no family, no person should have to go through what my family has gone through. My son should be here. We need change.”
“Together we are still fighting for an end to police violence and the never-ending pain and trauma that follows,” he added, pointing to legislation supported by Ms Bush and a foundation in Brown’s honour. “We must work together to guarantee the safety and security of our communities.”
Legislation supported by Ms Bush would provide victims and families affected by police violence access to the mental health services and create a new federal agency to study policing alternatives.
Democratic US Rep Ilhan Omar of Minnesota invited the father of Amir Locke as the congresswoman prepares to reintroduce legislation to limit the use of no-knock warrants.
Locke’s family is suing the city of Minneapolis after the 22-year-old Black man was killed during a predawn, no-knock police raid in February 2022.
His father Andre Locke Sr said that he is “honored to be able to represent our family” at the State of the Union.
“We want to help prevent this from happening to other families, so that other families don’t have to feel what we’re feeling,” he said.
“Too many parents have lost their children to police violence,” Ms Omar said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that no-knock warrants continue to be in effect with little to no restrictions, regulations, and regard for the impact on lives.”
Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries invited Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in New York City in 2014
US Rep Sheila Jackson Lee invited the Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, whose murder in 2020 sparked congressional legislation – and urgency from the Biden administration – to tackle systemic abuse and use-of-force policies.
Bipartisan negotiations for that bill, to be named in Floyd’s honour, ground to a halt.
Louisiana US Rep Troy Carter invited Mona Hardin, the mother of Ronald Greene, who died in 2019 after a Louisiana State Police pursuit – captured in harrowing body-worn camera footage – ended with Greene’s fatal beating. Initial police reports attributed his death to a car crash.
It wasn’t until December of last year, nearly three years after his death, that five troopers involved were charged with negligent homicide, malfeasance and obstruction of justice.
US Rep Shontel Brown of Ohio invited Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Black boy who was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014.
“The American police brutality epidemic is unsustainable, and police reform innovated through community-driven solutions must be one of the president’s top priorities,” the congresswoman said in a statement.
“It is my prayer that Ms Rice’s attendance for the State of the Union will give her hope in the president’s ability to address unnecessary deaths of innocent people at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve us,” she added.
Ms Rice said she is still in “search for an indictment” to charge the officers involved in her son’s death, after an Ohio grand jury declined to issue an indictment and the US Department of Justice determined there was not enough evidence to charge them with a crime.
“I am hoping my presence here will give the powers that be a change of heart to change policies in this country so that the police can serve everybody,” Ms Rice said in a statement.
The families of Donovan Lynch, Blair Hope and Jayland Walker also will attend the speech as guests of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Other guests from caucus members include gun reform advocates and survivors of police brutality. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and activist Al Sharpton also are expected to attend.