Giovonn Joseph-McDade was a young man of promise, with plans to attend the University of Washington. Instead of achieving his dream, he was fatally shot multiple times on June 24 by members of the Kent Police Department. His family has been left with nothing but their grief, unanswered questions–and an unshakable desire for justice.

On July 14, his mother, aunt, other family, friends and members of the community gathered outside the Kent Police Department building for a press conference. (Watch the entire Liberation News livestream here.)

The press conference began as some 50 people gathered walked with their signs to the front of the KPD building. Family friend Victoria Mena served as chairwoman of the press conference and introduced the speakers. Giovonn’s mother, Sonia Joseph started reading the family’s statement, but was overcome by grief. Aunt to Giovonn,  Saima Joseph, continued reading the statement until she too could continue no longer. The reading of the statement was concluded by Savannah Gilley, a friend of Giovonn.

Sonia Joseph began by telling those assembled about who her son was as a person. “A loving son, grandson, big brother, nephew, friend and scholar. Our family and friends are all in disbelief and mourning this tremendous loss. Giovonn was bright from a very early age, he was in gifted classes since the third grade, he was an all-star athlete throughout his entire life, and overall he always strived to be the best version of himself,” Sonia read through tears.

Sonia’s grief turned to anger as she read, “It has been weeks after police fatally shot Giovonn and they are still not providing answers. We are heartbroken and disgusted by how the Kent Police Department has handled the situation. What we do know is death in  under two minutes, two deadly PIT maneuvers [Police Intervention Techniques-editor] in a cul-de-sac, and shots fired into the passenger’s side. Most of what we have been told has been information from the media.”

Saima Joseph continued by describing the impact on the family of this unspeakable loss: “No one is prepared for this kind of news.” She described how Giovonn’s grandmother initially could not believe what had happened and collapsed to her knees. “Now our entire family feels the excruciating pain that too many families have felt from losing a loved one at the hands of the police.”

Saima continued, “Police killings have become an epidemic and it must stop NOW!…Giovonn was the third person killed by police in King County in less than two weeks. It is no accident that the three recent shootings by law enforcement are young people of color, like Giovonn.

“We demand justice and accountability for Giovonn. We demand justice for all families who are impacted by the devastation of unjustly losing their loved one by those who are supposed to serve and protect.”

Demands for answers, accountability and systemic change

Savannah Gilley then read the demands. The family wants  answers about what actually happened: release of video, the names of the officers involved and KPD policies on PIT maneuvers including training procedures, and the involved officers’ records. The family wants accountability. Curently, the unnamed officers are on administrative leave with pay. As Gilley stated, “This is unacceptable.” The family demand that these officers be placed on unpaid leave until the investigation is complete.

The family also wants the investigation transferred. Currently, the incident is being investigated by neighboring Des Moines Police Department. DMPD is in turn currently being investigated by KPD for an  unrelated police shooting, which raises questions about the impartiality of the investigations. The family is demanding an independent community lead investigation, and the transfer of the investigation to the King County Sheriff’s Department.

Finally, the family demands solutions including the installation of dash cams on police cars and cultural compentency, anti-racism and de-escalation training for every cop on the force.

Solidarity from cousin of Charleena Lyles

Katrina Johnson (left), cousin of Charleena Lyles, spoke at the July 13 press conference in Kent.

Katrina Johnson (left), cousin of Charleena Lyles, spoke at the July 13 press conference in Kent.

Continuing the press conference, Katrina Johnson, cousin of Charleena Lyles, spoke. Lyles was shot and killed by Seattle police in her home, in front of three of her children, on June 18, after she called police for assistance.

After expressing her solidarity with the family of Joseph-McDade, Johnson exclaimed, “There needs to be accountability for officers who are taking the lives of young Black people all over. We are standing here because we are tired. We demand justice. This family demands answers from the police about what happened to their loved one, and we are not going to stop until we get it.”

Finally, Ximena Velázquez-Arenas from De-escalate Washington spoke about statewide initiative I-940, a new ballot initiative that is currently seeking ballot status for 2018. I-490 seeks to make it easier to hold police accountable for killing civilians while mandating de-escalation training and first aid response to people who have been injured by police.

At the conclusion of the press conference, Mena announced that the family would be meeting with the police chief to present their demands and asked that everyone continue to stay involved.

Showing the depth of the community’s solidarity, as the participants in the press conference gathered at the corner, a car drove by several times. The passenger, an Asian man,  shouted out his support for the press conference, stating that the Kent Police were racist and constantly pulled him over.

Donations for funeral expenses can be made at the Justice for Giovonn GoFundMe page.