Using the popular hashtags #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter, people across the country are expected to take to the streets this weekend and demand accountability for, and attention to, the all-to-frequent instances of police violence against black Americans.
Rallies will be held in many cities all weekend as citizens demand a response to the long list of unanswered questions about Sandra Bland’s recent death in a Texas jail, and to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which set off weeks of civil unrest throughout the country and inspired protests in Phoenix last summer.
The local activist group Wave of Action wants to help bring what some are calling a “national day of rage” to Phoenix by planning a rally on Friday. Organizers say this time of year has extra significance to people in the area because it also coincides with the anniversary of Michelle Cusseaux’s death– Cusseaux was a mentally ill 50-year-old woman who was shot and killed outside of her home last August by Phoenix Police Department Officer Percy Dupra during the course of what many say should have been a routine court-ordered mental-health pickup. The officers say she threatened them with a hammer, and that they were worried about their own safety.
Cusseaux’s death, which came days after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, also sparked outrage throughout the Valley, and was instrumental in the PPD's decision to implement a specially trained mental-health squad to help deal with thousands of court-ordered mental-health pickup orders. (The squad should be operational later this summer.)
“That whole case was very sketchy. They knew they were walking into the home of a mentally unstable person,” says Wave of Action organizer Murray Bookchin (he asked that New Times not publish his true name and use this pseudonym instead). And as far as he’s concerned, “making the police take a few training classes doesn’t bring justice to the family, [and we] want to make sure this all doesn’t get brushed under the rug.”
So often “when a woman of color gets killed, no one pays attention,” he adds, but “we are going to scream [Bland and Cussaux’s] names until more people pay attention.”
The group plans to meet at 7 p.m. near Cusseaux’s former residence, at the intersection of 55th Avenue and Clarendon Street. It’s unclear whether Cusseaux’s mother, Fran Garrett — who has become an outspoken critic of police violence and an advocate for better mental health training — will be in attendance. New Times reached out to her but didn’t hear back by press time.
Bookchin says leaders from Wave of Action and the community will give short speeches as the sunsets, and then he expects the group to start marching around the neighborhood in a peaceful protest.
“We want to let the neighborhood know that people haven’t forgotten [about Cusseaux’s death] and that she isn’t just going to be a hashtag,” he says.