On Saturday, Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West was killed by Baltimore Police and Morgan State University cops in July of 2013, was out protesting the death of George Floyd with a thousand or so others who traversed much of the city and ended up in front of City Hall.
She put a speaker on top of her car and chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and played N.W.A’.’s “Fuck the Police,” as she drove down North Avenue.
“The protest earlier was beautiful. Everyone was in their cars, everyone was safely social distancing,” Jones said. “Everyone is caught up in their emotions. We were trying to be effective and trying to be safe.”
When protesters arrived at City Hall in the evening, Jones broke off with a smaller group headed to Baltimore’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office to call attention to medical examiners’ roles in vilifying victims of police violence.
“[Medical Examiners] are basically the reason why these killer cops get off,” Jones said. “We talk about the blue code silence with the officers, it transfers over to them too.”
The autopsy for Floyd was released on Friday May 30—the same day Officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd told him “I can’t breathe,” was arrested. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said he found no evidence Floyd died of “asphyxia”—the body losing oxygen as a result of an inability to breathe. Instead, underlying health issues Floyd had were blamed for his death.
Jones points out that West’s autopsy made similar claims: That his death was a result of the extreme summer heat and pre-existing health issues rather than “asphyxia.”
“[Medical Examiners] cover up for [police],” Jones said. “They make it seem like victims have drugs in their system. They’re doing the same thing in George Floyd’s case.”
Jones and her family challenged West’s initial medical examiner’s report and had two independent autopsies conducted, both of which said asphyxia was the cause of West’s death. None of the officers involved in her brother’s death were ever charged.
When Tawanda Jones saw the video of George Floyd’s death, she also thought of her brother Tyrone West: “When I first saw the video of George Floyd, I heard a grown man call for help saying ‘I can’t breathe,’—that hit home,” she said.
During the July 2013 traffic stop that resulted in Tyrone’s death, police officers beat, kicked, and tased Jones and then one officer, David Lewis, kneeled on West’s back.
While Jones protested at the Medical Examiner’s Office, police began gathering in front of City Hall. Among the many officers there monitoring was Jorge Omar Bernardez Ruiz, one of the officers implicated in West’s death. Bernardez Ruiz and Nichole David Chapman were the cops that initially stopped West. A popular chant at West Wednesdays—the weekly event held in honor of West—goes, “Chapman and Ruiz you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”
Activists at City Hall on Saturday took Bernardez Ruiz’s photo at City Hall and posted it on Twitter.
“Seeing someone that murdered my brother,” out monitoring a police brutality protest, Jones said, made her “outraged.”
Into the evening, the police presence in front of City Hall grew and police officers in riot gear fired tear gas and pepper spray bullets at the group of 200. Protesters threw plastic bottles. A police van was spray painted with, “Fuck the Police.” More police in riot gear were called in and in the downtown area, there was property damage.
“It’s amazing how white racist people can go into capitals and no one pulls a weapon, no one was shot—you don’t see pepper spray,” Jones said. “But when we go out there, because our bodies are being killed everyday, they still want to kill us.”
For the fourth night in a row, people in cities across the United States took to the streets demanding justice for George Floyd and in multiple cities, looting and causing property damage. Law enforcement has responded with heavy handed tactics, such as tear gas, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets as well as brute force, attacks on journalists, and driving police vehicles into groups of protests. Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Philadelphia were placed under curfew.
“George Floyd was lynched,” Jones said. “It was a modern day lynching.”