Militant Journalism

Keishon Thomas died in Milwaukee police custody — They’re not telling us what happened

On Feb. 23, 20-year-old Keishon Thomas died while in police custody at the Milwaukee District 5 Precinct. He was arrested at about 2 a.m. after being pulled over for a traffic violation when officers discovered that he had a warrant out. Sixteen hours later, he was found unresponsive. Bruising was found on his body. Three officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.

Thomas’ death is being investigated as a medical accident, but his family said that he was healthy and didn’t have any known medical issues. This tragic case is another in a series of in-custody deaths in South-Eastern Wisconsin, including the 18 in-custody deaths at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility and the 2021 in-custody deaths of Malcolm James and Ronquale Ditello-Scott at the Racine County Jail.

Thomas had eight siblings and is remembered for his good nature and willingness to help out his large family. In fact, when he was pulled over he was on his way to pick up one of his siblings from work. Thomas loved basketball and rapping, and he collected model cars. His family spoke about his life extensively at a vigil and balloon release held Feb. 28 outside the District 5 Precinct, attended by at least 75 people.

“He was my first son, coming from a family of nine. He took care of us and we took care of him. My son was love. My son is love. I’m going to miss that beautiful smile. We all have great memories with him and I can see by the amount of people here that you loved him just as much as I do,” said Thomas’s mother, Markeisha Evans. “We want to see some justice for my son. He was a father of two, and his kids will never get to grow up with him, never really get to know who he was. My son didn’t have to leave me the way he did.”

Thomas was also held in high regard by his community, particularly at his church, the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. “On Feb. 23 we lost a bright shining light in our community,” said Rev. Marilyn Miller. “He was not perfect, but none of us are perfect. Each one of us is doing the best they can. He worked like we go to work. He loved his kids like we love our kids. He loved his mom, his sisters, his family. He was a good person like we’re good people.”

Ultimately, Thomas’ death was completely preventable. Something happened while he was in custody that compromised his well being — something that would not have happened if he was not under the negligent care of the Milwaukee Police Department. Who was watching him the whole time? Why has the police department been so unwilling to release any details?

“We need to stand together for justice, my people. We need answers. We need to know what happened in this building on Feb. 23,” Miller continued. “We know people make mistakes, but own up to your mistakes. We need transparency from the police department. We need to know what happened. There is a lot of mending that needs to happen between the community and the police department. It cannot happen if we don’t know the truth. Don’t expect us to stand with you if you are not going to be honest with us and accept responsibility for what you do. This is trauma. Every time this happens in our community, we are traumatized over and over and over again. We are asking for the Milwaukee Police Department and the investigating police department to give some answers to this family and have some integrity.”

All progressive and revolutionary people should condemn the Milwaukee Police Department for failing to ensure the safety of Keishon Thomas while he was under their control and demand the officers involved in his death be held accountable.

“Obviously we have to look at the processes and procedures in place. People make mistakes, but these mistakes can’t keep happening. Something has to change. If the same thing keeps happening, there are flaws in the system. We have to look at and change the policies, practices and procedures that allowed this to happen to Keishon. And honestly, when people make these mistakes, they have to be held accountable for it,” said Miller.

Justice for Keishon Thomas!

Feature photo: Family members hold Keishon Thomas’ picture at a vigil and balloon release on Feb. 28. Liberation photo

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