This Monday, a jury found two Virginia Beach police officers guilty of gross negligence in the death of India Kager, who was killed in September 2015. The jury recommended that the estate of India Kager be awarded $800,000 in compensation for her wrongful death. For many, this ruling remains bittersweet at best. The attorneys litigating the Wrongful Death case for the estate of India Kager initially sought $15 million in damages. Moreover, all four officers involved will remain on the Virginia Beach police force following the ruling.
On September 5th, 2015, India and Angelo Perry, co-parent to her youngest son, Roman, drove down to Virginia Beach to introduce baby Roman to Angelo’s family. While parked in a 7/11 parking lot, Virginia Beach SWAT vehicles ambushed them, threw a flash bang grenade at India’s vehicle, and opened fire on the car, releasing 30 rifle rounds. India and Angelo were killed within seconds. The police department never claimed that India was armed nor that she was a suspect in any investigation. According to India’s mother, Gina Best, the police had been tailing them before the shooting, and she believes that the police must have known that an unarmed woman and her infant child were in the car when they decided to open fire. “When India Kager should've mattered most, she didn't matter at all," said Edward Brady, one of the Kager family attorneys in his closing statement at the trial.
Recent data released by the Fatal Interactions with Police (FIPS) research project at Washington University in St. Louis indicates that over 57% of Black women from May 2013 to January 2015 were unarmed when killed-- a number higher than any other demographic. According to the 2018 study, Black women represent "the only race-gender group to have a majority of its members unarmed when killed."
Best describes her daughter, who was a 27-year-old Navy veteran and artist, as a “beautiful soul” who was “supportive, contemplative, highly gifted, and extremely articulate.” Since India’s death, Gina has been a tireless advocate for justice, not only for her daughter, but for all Black women and girls killed by the police, joining together with AAPF and other mothers to form the #SayHerName Mothers Network. “What does it mean when civilians are turned into collateral damage without any accountability?” asks Gina. “Now I have two grandsons who no longer have a mother… She is completely irreplaceable.”
(L to R) #SayHerName Mothers, New York City, November 2016; Gina Best at #SayHerName: An Evening of Art and Action at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, November 2016
This verdict in India’s case follows the recent judgment against Baltimore City police in the 2016 death of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines, another Black mother of two who was shot and killed by police while she was at home and holding her infant son. Korryn’s mother, Rhanda Dormeus, has also faced an uphill battle seeking justice for her daughter’s tragic death. After winning a major victory in court earlier this year in a wrongful death suit, Dormeus and her family now find themselves in court once again as the city contests the decision in language that maps on to the long term discounting of ties between Black families and the value of Black life.
Though the verdicts in both civil trials offer some hope, it is imperative that we continue monitoring these cases closely and stand with these families to protect their judgments against inevitable efforts to render their daughters' lives worthless, in the media and throughout the appeals process. We must also support those families who are still struggling to hold police accountable for their loved ones’ deaths.
The lives and deaths of India Kager and Korryn Gaines highlight the urgency of a national conversation about the disproportionate and discriminatory brutality inflicted upon Black women by police forces across the country. The Say Her Name report was launched in May 2015 as a resource for the media, organizers, researchers, policy makers, and other stakeholders to better understand and address Black women’s experiences of profiling and policing - from both analytical and policy-forming perspectives. Notably, the Say Her Name campaign has also provided a touchstone for connections to be formed by the devastated, grieving mothers and family members like Gina and Rhanda. Together, they advocate for justice for their daughters and for other Black women whose lives are abruptly, unacceptably taken, and whose deaths go largely ignored in mainstream conversations about police violence and violence against women. No mother should have to bury a child lost to police brutality or violence against women. And no mother should suffer the indignity and injustice of having that killing ignored. These judgements thus provide a rare moment where the judicial systems pays homage to these deaths, and in effect declares Black women’s deaths at the hands of the police to be legal and moral wrongs.
Watch Gina Best, mother of India Kager, and Rhanda Dormeus, mother of Korryn Gaines, in a NowThis News feature on the #SayHerName Campaign