Photo: Rogelio V. Solis, AP
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — More than 200 people protesting outside the Mississippi Capitol were greeted Friday by a lawmaker who promised to deliver their letter criticizing the state’s response to the death of black men at the hands of police.
Among the protesters who turned out was Yoshanta Albert, the widow of Marc Davis, who was killed by police in Petal, Mississippi, in June 2017 at the scene of a car accident.
“This is not what justice looks like: a child without a father,” Albert said, waving a photo of her 2-year-old daughter, Leah, standing next to her father’s casket. “I waited three years. His death was swept under the rug.”
Davis was shot several times after he was in a car accident, and police said he got into an “altercation” with the officers, according to news outlets. Albert filed a federal lawsuit in 2017 that named the City of Petal, former police chief Leonard Fuller and the officer involved in the shooting as defendants, according to the reports. The lawsuit was dismissed in October.
Protesters on Friday initially tried to gain access to a building near the Capitol that houses state offices, including that of the attorney general. A police officer standing inside said the building has been closed to the public for weeks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They then moved on to the Capitol, which was mostly empty Friday as the Legislature was not in session. The building was open to the public, but police officers blocked the doors to the protesters. The governor was out of town.
“This is our statehouse. You have to let us inside,” Kenyatta Harris of Jackson shouted as several demonstrators tried to push open the doors. “We are taxpayers and we have every right to be here.”
Capitol police then tracked down the only legislator who was in the building, Democratic Rep. Zakiya Summers of Jackson. Summers went outside to greet the demonstrators and told them she would put copies of the letter on the desks of legislators, the governor and the attorney general.
“This is your Capitol. You have every right to be here,” Summers said. “I have three black sons and I know that it could have been any one of them. It could have been my husband. It could have been my father.”
Summers added that “systemic racism is real.”
“When the government intentionally mistreats and kills people, they need to be held accountable,” she said.
The letter the protesters want delivered was written by members of Mississippi’s Poor People’s Campaign, who organized the protest. It expresses “concern and outrage” over Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s decision to drop the manslaughter charge against white former Columbus police officer Canyon Boykin in the killing of 26-year-old Ricky Ball, who was black. The case was dropped “with prejudice” on May 28, meaning it cannot be revived.
Ball ran from a vehicle in which he was a passenger after it was stopped in 2015, Boykin said. The officer said he fired his weapon while chasing Ball because Ball appeared to point a gun at him. A handgun was found near Ball’s body. Ball’s family disputed whether Boykin had cause to shoot. Fitch said her office reviewed the case against Boykin and determined he acted in self-defense.
Ball’s family was present at the protest Friday.
“What happened to my cousin was unacceptable,” Ashley Jones said. “The justice system has failed us and we aren’t taking no for an answer. We aren’t stopping until we get a conviction.”
Fitch on Friday was giving investigative files from the case to the local district attorney, Scott Colom, Colom said at the protest outside the building housing the state attorney general’s office. He promised demonstrators he would make some of those files public.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.