On September 15, 2021, the African American Policy Forum staff and community were absolutely heartbroken to learn of the death of Cassandra Johnson. Cassandra was the mother of Tanisha Anderson and a member of the AAPF #SayHerName Mother’s Network. Cassandra’s passing came just a few years after the untimely death of another mother in our network, Vicky McAdory-Coles, the aunt of India Beaty. As we honor the lives of these two extraordinary women, we must also acknowledge the reality their deaths illuminate: that state violence, recurring trauma, and systems of neglect can create a lifetime of pain for Black women, girls, and femmes.
The evening of November 14, 2014, 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson was killed by Cleveland police during what should have been a non-violent mental health call. During a mental health episode, Tanisha wandered outside in the cold, wearing no shoes and a nightgown. Instead of offering Tanisha the assistance she needed, Detective Scott Aldridge and officer Brian Meyers slammed Tanisha to the icy ground and pinned her with their bodies for a full 21 minutes. Tanisha’s mother Cassandra, her 16-year-old daughter Mauvion, and other family members watched her die from the porch, with guns pointed at them.
India Beaty, a 25-year-old aspiring rapper, was shot five times and killed on March 19th 2016 by two Norfolk police officers after she allegedly gestured a gun at them. The weapon was later determined to be a fake firearm - one that India used in her 2015 music video “Neva Looking Back.” The two officers were placed on administrative leave and their names were never released to the public.
"You will never be the same person you were...but do you let it change you for the worse or the better. If you are thinking of her, your child, you should be thinking of what I can do to change something in her honor."
- Mother Cassie
Launched just one month after Tanisha’s death, the #SayHerName campaign exists to bring awareness to the often invisible names and stories of Black women, girls, and femmes who have been victimized by racist police violence. Both Cassandra Johnson and Vicky McAdory were two of the voices who helped shape the #SayHerName movement and pushed us to keep the needs of the victim’s families and communities at the forefront of our work.
However, not enough is said about the enduring and insidious cost of state violence on the people left behind. When the killing of Black women, girls, and femmes remains grossly underreported in our country, that lack of recognition, lack of support, and ultimately lack of care is deeply encoded in the bodies of the mothers, sisters, and families charged with mourning their loved ones. Both women endured loss after loss, first when police stole the lives of their daughter and niece, and later, as they fought to have their loved ones’ names brought to the forefront of national discussions over police violence.
The violent deaths of their daughters situate Black women who are the survivors of police violence at the intersection of other ongoing systemic ills. Mothers like Cassandra and Vicky may be balancing childcare (raising their own dependent children and possibly grandchildren), housing insecurity, unemployment or underemployment, lack of access to adequate and affordable healthcare, and harassment by local law enforcement. Overall, Black people experience higher rates of PTSD and are more likely to develop PTSD-related symptoms following trauma exposure than their white counterparts. At AAPF, we believe that the higher prevalence of trauma amongst African Americans is due to the realities Black people - and in particular, Black women - face as a result of systemic racial and gender discrimination.
"I'm not just a soldier for India Beaty. I am a soldier for every one of our children that have been unjustifiably taken away from us. And I will stand up if it means my death.
I will not stop speaking out until I have not voice."
- Mother Vicky
In the years following Tanisha’s death, Cassandra not only attended to her own grief, she raised a granddaughter who was mourning the loss of her mother, and supported both her family and community. Cassandra watched as her city failed to indict or even fire the officers responsible for Tanisha’s death, even when those officers had previously been suspended for excessive force. Her physical health issues intensified as her emotional health deteriorated from this ongoing trauma. Cassandra suffered several strokes, and after her 9th one, she was moved to a nursing home, where her family’s access was restricted due to COVID. Her death, most immediately caused by sepsis, was in the end, a collateral consequence of the state violence that killed Tanisha.
At AAPF, we understand implicitly the enormous physical, mental, and financial price that state-sanctioned violence exacts both from its victims and their families. We see that cost written across the faces of the mothers in our network as they weather an apathetic press, face hostile police departments and city governments, and shoulder the economic burden of keeping their families afloat while also seeking justice through the courts. Black women, girls, and femmes deserve to live full lives, uninterrupted by police brutality. Cassandra Johnson and Vicky McAdory, like so many other loved ones and family members, deserved to thrive. Until they can, we will continue to #SayHerName.
MOTHERS NETWORK IN MEMORIAM
Honoring the work of those who have transitioned as we continue the fight.