"Her death certificate says killed by police, but I feel like my sister was murdered," says Martinez Sutton, whose 22-year-old little sister, Rekia Boyd, was shot in the head by an off-duty Chicago detective on Wednesday, March 21. She died the following day at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Boyd's death comes less than a month after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, leaving many troubled by the regularity with which unarmed people of color are shot, particularly by individuals claiming self-defense. And for those left grieving, the failure of authorities to hold the shooter accountable is the greatest injustice of all.
In the case of Boyd, Chicago police almost immediately echoed the account of the off-duty detective responsible for her death. Police say the officer in question drove up to a group of people in Chicago's Douglas Park around 1 AM on Wednesday, March 21, to investigate a disturbance near his home. He rolled down his window and asked them to quiet down at which point police say 39-year-old Antonio Cross pulled out a gun forcing the detective to open fire in self-defense, hitting Cross in the hand and striking Boyd in the head.
But neighbors, witnesses and Cross paint a vastly different picture. Cross told WGN News that he was unarmed and on his cell phone at the time of the shooting. When Cross asked why the officer shot him, he says the officer's response was, "I thought your phone was a gun." Cross has since been charged with a misdemeanor of aggravated assault.
Local news outlets initially reported that police failed to recover Cross' alleged weapon. However, Police would not confirm or deny this to Truthout and referred all further questions to the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IRPA), the outside body tasked with handling the investigation. The IPRA's Deputy Chief Administrator William Weeden declined to comment on any details as well, saying, "We cannot comment on an open and ongoing investigation."
Rekia Boyd's older brothers, Martinez Sutton and Darian Boyd, told Truthout that their family has received no explanation or even condolences from the Chicago Police Department. "We've made multiple attempts to contact them and even asked news stations to please contact them since they won't talk to us," said Darian Boyd, adding, "It just makes it that much harder to deal with the grief."
Darian Boyd said it was both maddening and heartbreaking to hear Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy call the shooting "justified" in an interview with WGN without any mention of his sister on the very day she died in the hospital from a gunshot wound to the head.
According to Sutton, the only encounter the family has had with police since the shooting was when they came to his home, where Rekia lived, to notify him that his sister was injured. "The police came to my house and told me 'Your sister has been involved in a crime. She's been shot in the head and she's in critical condition.' They gave me no information besides the name and number of the hospital and said 'we're sorry' and walked away."
Alderman Michael Chandler of the 24th Ward, where the incident took place, has added his voice to the growing concerns over police handling of the investigation, calling the police officer's account "thin and weak". According to Chicago's WBEZ, Chandler says residents who witnessed the shooting have complained to him that authorities have not bothered to contact them for eyewitness testimony. "A young person's life [has been] taken away and there is not one person that has been out on these streets to canvass the area to talk to any of these witnesses," Chandler told WBEZ. Furthermore, Chandler has requested that police properly examine neighbors' claims that they heard the officer tell a crowd, "What do I have to do around here to get some peace, quiet and respect? Shoot someone?" the day before the shooting.
As a result, Sutton and Boyd have been independently canvassing the neighborhood where the shooting took place to hear what witnesses and neighbors have to say. According to Sutton, witnesses say the officer appeared intoxicated that night and was known by neighbors to have been drunk most of the time. Witnesses also say the off-duty officer approached the park in an unmarked car dressed in plain clothes while yelling belligerently at the crowd to "shut up." More importantly, they say he never identified himself as a police officer.
Sutton was most upset to hear from witnesses that his sister was left lying on the ground for a half an hour before she was taken to the hospital. "They even told her friends, 'get away from her or we'll lock you up' and they told Antonio Cross to 'shut up and sit down' and he was handcuffed to a pole while his hand was still bleeding from a gunshot wound," Sutton said.
Although police refuse to release the name of the officer, after speaking with neighbors, Sutton and Boyd have identified him as Dante Servin. According to Sutton, "He's Latino, but looks white." On Tuesday, March 27, around 200 people gathered to protest in front of his house. Among them were Rekia Boyd's family and friends, who have teamed up to build a campaign that calls for justice for their slain daughter, sister, cousin, aunt and friend.
While Sutton empathizes strongly with Trayvon Martin's family, he feels that the Martins have a better chance of getting justice since the shooter was a private citizen, whereas his sister's killer, an officer of the law, is far more difficult to hold accountable. "They hide behind the badge," argued Sutton. "If I was in a crime where I was armed and shot someone in the head I'd be in jail right now. But if a cop does it, they get a slap on the hand."
Sutton feels as though the police are more interested in protecting their fellow officer than getting justice for his little sister. Nevertheless, he insists, "We are going to keep seeking the truth and justice."
Rekia's brothers recently launched a web site, Journey for Justice, where they post updates about the investigation as well as information about upcoming events.
"My only objective out of this entire thing is to see that the police officer responsible receives some type of charges for his negligence," says Darian Boyd, who described his sister as "a light hearted, free spirit."
"My sister would still been here if he [the officer] wasn't outside playing Rambo. I just want them to look deeper into this and in the meantime take this guy off the force," argued Sutton. "She'd light up a whole room with the way she was. She loved life and her family. I miss her. I'm still waiting for her to come home and walk through the door."