It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of our beloved #SayHerName Mothers Network member Cassandra Johnson. Cassandra, affectionately known as Cassie, passed away on September 15, 2021. Cassandra joined the #SayHerName Mothers Network in November 2016 to honor the life of her daughter Tanisha Anderson, whom the Cleveland police killed in November 2014 after they were summoned to help Tanisha through a mental health crisis.
What the Loss Meant for Cassandra
After Cassie bore witness to Tanisha’s killing, her health began to decline. She was further traumatized when she learned from a television newscast that the officers who killed Tanisha would not be charged. Although she vowed to fight for justice for Tanisha, she suffered through a series of strokes and complications that ultimately took her life. As with another mother of the movement, Vicky McAdory, we believe their lost lives are additional fatalities caused by police violence. The physical health ailments brought on by the grief and trauma associated with the police killing of their loved ones is part of the untold story of police violence that has compromised the physical and emotional well-being of those left behind. When we #SayHerName, we lift up the struggles and lost lives of the wider group of loved ones who live—and some who die—under the unimaginable weight of this injustice.
Cassandra’s Life and Legacy
A proud mother and grandmother, dedicated friend, and joyful spirit, Cassandra was much loved by her daughters Tanisha and Jennifer, and her son Doyle. She raised Tanisha’s daughter, Mauvion, after Tanisha was killed.
Cassandra was an artist — a brilliant singer and musician, a quiet soul with a tremendous heart and a determined and reflective presence.
She was, at the same time, full of surprises. As Lisa Gissendaner, the #SayHerName Coordinator, fondly recalls, “the first time that the Mother’s Network got together Cassandra had said that she had not laughed like that in a long time. She expressed her joy through her laughter during her time spent with the other Mothers.” Her laughter was energetically infectious and that exuberance was something Cassandra shared with her daughter, Tanisha. Cassandra recalled how her daughter “always made people laugh” and “she always had something funny to say.”
Love. Laughter. Warmth. Generosity. Fight. Determination. These are just a few words that have been used to describe our beloved Cassie.
Those who survive the police killing of their daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends not only must confront the tragic reality that their loved ones are gone, but must actively combat the erasure of their loss. The trauma that Cassandra experienced in the aftermath of her daughter’s unjust killing highlights the urgent need for sustained strategies to assist families who lose their daughters to police violence. Cassandra’s loss, like the untimely death of Vicky McAdory, auntie-mama to India Beaty who died in March 2016 at the hands of Norfolk police, amplifies the fact that the consequences of this deadly injustice continue long after their names fade from memory.
As we mourn Cassandra’s death, we also honor her memory by redoubling our efforts to resist police brutality against Black women.