(Episode 1) A Mothers Nightmare: The Life and Death of Korryn Gaines
On August 1, 2016, Baltimore County police arrived at the Randallstown, Maryland apartment of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines to serve a warrant alleging that she had failed to appear in court. Gaines, who had miscarried twins as a consequence of improper treatment while being held in connection with a traffic stop, had received paperwork for the stop that did not provide the date on which she was expected to appear. A month prior to the day officers descended on her home, Gaines had visited the police station seeking clarification about her court date, only to be told that the officer who had issued the paperwork was unavailable. When Gaines noticed police attempting to force entry that day in August, she sat down in her living room with a legally owned firearm, and a 6-hour standoff ensued. Gaines had amassed a sizable online following via her activism and poetry, and narrated the sequence in real time on Facebook Live until the social media portal shut her page down per police request. During the 6-hour standoff, Gaines relocated to her kitchen, at which point Officer Royce Ruby, Jr. fired at Gaines from outside her apartment. Officer Ruby then entered the apartment and shot Gaines three more times. One of the bullets passed through Gaines and wounded her young son, who survived but sustained lifelong disabling injuries. County prosecutors concluded that the killing of Gaines was justified, and Officer Ruby was not criminally charged.
Pundits and critics have foregrounded Korryn’s possible mental impairment, her gun ownership, and her ideology as reasons to paper over the possible intersectional vulnerabilities that contributed to Korryn’s killing. In this riveting and morally urgent episode of Intersectionality Matters!, host Kimberlé Crenshaw sits down with Rhanda Dormeus, Korryn’s mother, to reveal the untold story of Gaines’ death, the blatant miscarriages of justice that led to it, and the harrowing consequences of Officer Ruby’s authorization to take the life of a mother in her own home. Dormeus’s story plumbs the very depths of unfathomable grief and raises deeply disturbing questions about whether the sanctity accorded to most human life is withheld from Black women and their families. Dormeus has reaped some positivity from tragic topsoil by becoming a leading voice in the Say Her Name movement, a campaign to shine light on Black women who are the underreported victims of police violence.
Intersectionality Matters! is recorded and produced by Julia Sharpe-Levine. This episode was edited by Julia Sharpe-Levine and Alex Schein and recorded by Stacia Brown, Rebecca Scheckman, and Julia Sharpe-Levine, with consulting help from Thea Chaloner. Additional support was provided by Janine Jackson, Naimah Hakim, G’Ra Asim, Kevin Minofu, and Madeline Cameron Wardleworth.
Learn more about Korryn’s story and the #SayHerName Campaign at aapf.org/podcast. Sign up on Patreon (patreon.com/intersectionalitymatters) for bonus content from this interview.
Meet Other Members of the #SayHerName Family Network
Fran Garrett, Mother of Michelle Cusseaux
Fran Garrett’s daughter, 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux, was tragically murdered by the police in her own home in August 2014 when they came for a mental health wellness check. Under Arizona’s first responder law, multiple uniformed police officers arrived unannounced and with guns pulled. After Michelle refused to let the police in her home, Sergeant Percy Durpa pried open the locked security door, and was met with Michelle holding a hammer in her hands. Dupra claimed that he felt threatened, although no threats were made, shot her in the heart. Her mother and sister have explained that Michelle had the hammer, along with several other tools, with her in the living room because she was changing the locks in her home. When the paramedics arrived to take Michelle to the hospital they took her in for medical treatment at the hospital across town, instead of the one a few minutes away. Since Michelle’s untimely death, Fran has been very active in calls for police reform, notably marching her daughter’s casket through downtown Phoenix weeks after the shooting. Her efforts have been met with reforms on the part of the city of Phoenix, including the creation of the police department’s mental health advisory board and a seven-member police unit dedicated to crisis intervention. In addition, Fran worked closely with the AAPF to develop the Say Her Name campaign. Continuing to carry the torch for her daughter Fran organizes an annual mental health awareness and toy giveaway in collaboration with the local community, federal agencies and local law enforcement.
Sharon Wilkerson, Mother of Shelly Frey
Sharon Wilkerson’s daughter, 27-year-old Shelly Frey, was killed in a Walmart parking lot by an off-duty police officer who was working as store security. Louis Campbell, a deputy sheriff and Houston area minister, shot and killed Shelly on December 6, 2012 in an attempt to apprehend her friend who he suspects to be shoplifting from a Walmart store. After entering their car, where her friend’s two children were waiting for them, Shelly was shot twice in the neck through the car window. Campbell later claimed that he fired shots in self-defense because the driver had attempted to run him over. After Shelly was shot, neither the driver nor the police sought medical attention for her. Her body was left in the car for eight hours. If Shelly received immediate medical attention, she would likely have survived. In the wake of her daughter’s death, Sharon Wilkerson has sought to elevate the story of her daughter and Black women like her who, often struggling with poverty and caretaking responsibilities, have run-ins with the law that prove fatal. Sharon has sued the deputy, the security company that hired him and Wal-Mart, hoping to secure justice for her daughter through the courts.
Cassandra Johnson, Mother of Tanisha Anderson
Cassandra Johnson’s daughter, 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, was killed on November 13, 2014 during an encounter with police as her family watched from their home. Growing up, Tanisha had excelled as a student, and aspired to become a broadcast journalist. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s, and began taking medication. On a cold night in Cleveland, Tanisha became disoriented and repeatedly tried to leave the house without shoes and wearing only a nightgown. Her brother called the police for help, but instead of an ambulance, two sets of police officers arrived. What should have been a routine mental health call turned deadly when one of the arresting officers used a takedown move and kneeled on Tanisha’s back. Tanisha’s heart disease and bipolar disorder were factors that heightened her vulnerability to the police’s violent tactics. She arrived at the hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest and could not be revived. Her death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury cleared Cleveland police officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers of all wrongdoing. Shortly before Anderson passed, the U.S. Justice Department released a report that found that Cleveland police lack the proper training to navigate encounters with residents with mental illness. The report found that officers resort to using force against the mentally and medically unwell in lieu of de-escalation techniques.
Since the killing of her daughter, Cassandra Johnson has been active in the Say Her Name movement, sharing Tanisha’s story and finding common cause with other mothers of Black women killed by police.
Maria Moore, Sister of Kayla Moore
Maria Moore’s sister, 41-year-old Kayla Moore, a Black transgender woman, was killed by Berkeley police who came to her home in response to a call for help from her roommate on February 12, 2013. Her roommate had summoned police because Kayla was experiencing a mental health crisis. Instead of escorting Kayla to a medical facility as requested, the officers attempted to arrest her on a warrant for a man 20 years her senior, who had the same name she was given at birth. Several officers overpowered Kayla in her own bedroom, suffocating her to death in the process. Afterward, officers delayed monitoring her vital signs, referred to her using transgender slurs, and failed to administer adequate life-saving treatment. Kayla’s body was also exposed during and after the police assault. Activists in Berkeley have organized to publicize her case, and her family has filed a lawsuit against the Berkeley police officers responsible for her death.
Gina Best, Mother of India Kager
Gina Best is the mother of India Kager, a 27-year-old Black woman shot and killed by Virginia Beach Police on September 5, 2015, while in a car with her 4-month-old son. Four officers fired 30 rounds in under 15 seconds into the car killing India and Angelo Perry, who was driving the car. Her baby, Roman, survived the shooting. Police officers had allegedly tailed Perry for several days believing him to be planning to commit a violent crime. India, a postal service worker and navy veteran, was not involved in any criminal activity. India had another son, Evan, who was four when he lost his mother. Since her daughter’s death, Gina has sought to raise awareness around police brutality. Gina describes her daughter as “a beautiful soul” who was “very supportive, contemplative, highly gifted and extremely articulate.” India attended Duke Ellington School of Arts in Washington DC, where she focused on visual arts. After her service attended art school in Virginia. She came from a family of police officers.
Rhanda Dormeus, Mother of Korryn Gaines
The mother of Korryn Gaines, who was shot and killed with her son in her arms, Rhanda Dormeus has spent the last 18 months seeking police accountability for the death of her daughter. Korryn, who was only 23 at the time of her death, believed herself to be in grave danger when the police arrived on Aug 1, 2016 to serve the mother of two a warrant for failure to appear in court following a traffic violation. Fearing for herself and her family’s security, Korryn barricaded herself in her house with a shotgun and livestreamed much of the subsequent, hours-long standoff before, at the request of the police, Facebook and Twitter shut down her accounts. Police then entered her apartment and fired, killing Korryn and injuring her son Kodi on a ricochet. As Korryn was armed at the time of her death, the shooting was considered justified by the Maryland State Attorney’s office and the officer responsible remains on the force, where he was subsequently promoted. In the wake of her daughter’s death and her own activism, the Baltimore County Police have increased the usage of body-cams, and have instituted new policies for engaging individuals who may present mental health issues.
Richard Saenz, Lambda Legal, Kara Ingelhart, Lambda Legal, and Andrea J. Ritchie, Barnard Center for Research on Women, “The Impact of the Trump Administration’s Federal Criminal Justice Initiatives on LGBTQ People & Communities and Opportunities for Local Resistance,” A Report by the National LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group, Lambda Legal.