Transcript from IMKC "India Kager: A Mother's Story of Loss & Erasure"
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Let me try to describe Gina Best for those of you who haven't met her. She enters a room adorned in white, her long hair is wrapped elegantly in a white head wrap. She's gracious, she's smiling. She's bringing spiritual energy in a small suitcase that brims with treasures, crystals, candles, sage, and other good-smelling things. And as she unpacks each item, she carefully places them around a small table, saving the center of what is now becoming a display for the most precious cargo in the suitcase: a stuffed toy, a well-worn media book and a framed photo of her daughter, handsomely photographed in her Navy uniform. It's only the sharp intake of her breath when she pulls her hands away from the photo that the excruciating pain that she carries is revealed. It's the sound of a broken heart that radiates underneath her regal demeanor. It's a posture that's at odds with the agonizing longing and the barely containable rage that convulses just underneath Gina's surface. She is the mother of India Kager, a Black woman killed on September 5th, 2015 by Virginia police. It's a story of police killing that is so savage, so senseless, so sudden, so unnecessary, and so unjustified that it leaves terrified witnesses to the story knowing that in this quasi-police state in which most Black people live, anything can happen to any of us at any time.
Gina's loss weighs heavy, and it's a burden that's not eased one bit by the obscurity that surrounds this horrific tragedy. It raises the question of whether her stolen life meant any more to a society that basically yawned than it meant to the officers who disregarded her very existence in their relentless pursuit of the man she was with. Gina lives with this awareness, that the child she birthed was reduced to collateral damage in the eyes of the law, and the excruciating recognition that her words convey with stunning clarity to anyone who has the opportunity to hear them.
Last week, India would have turned 32. Like Breonna Taylor, who was nearly the same age as the 27 year old India, her death would also be chopped up to collateral damage. Like Breonna’s case, the cops responsible for taking India's life have not been fired, they've not been prosecuted. Unlike Breonna, India story hasn't garnered much attention, and it's a loss that compounds the loss of India's life. So we wanted to take some time to sit with Gina on the eve of India's birthday, both as a memorial to India, and also as a moment to reground Say Her Name in the real stories of Black women whose lost lives barely register.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: So here's a person who served her country, a mother, an artist. Someone like that, one wouldn't expect to ever get a call to say that she'd been killed by the police. How does this happen? How did it happen?
Gina Best: On Labor Day weekend, a few days before, Angelo Perry had traveled here to Maryland to meet baby Roman.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Baby Roman was how old at this point?
Gina Best: He was four months old and Angelo hadn't seen the baby, had not met the baby. India was living here. And actually, India did not know that he was married until after the baby was born. And his wife did not know about the baby. And they found out later. Again, he kept that from both, but he came to meet the baby and wanted to take the baby back, beautiful Roman, they called him Jelani, to Virginia Beach to meet his family. And they went from house to house, introducing baby Roman to Angelo's family, to different locations there. But unbeknownst to Angelo and India, the Virginia Beach police were pinging cellphone. They were pinging his phone and following that. And they tracked them ...
Kimberlé Crenshaw: And why were they following him?
Gina Best: Because they said that they got a tip from a confidential informant that he was on his way to commit a crime. By this point, they had gotten ...
Kimberlé Crenshaw: With a four-month-old baby in the car.
Gina Best: Baby in the car. Yes. Yes. That's the story, that's the narrative that the police put out. And therefore, they had assembled ... This is Labor Day weekend, they assembled the entire Virginia Beach SWAT team, highly trained and surveilled, and watched India as she went from house to house carrying baby Roman's car seat in and out of the house.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: So they are aware that this idea that he's coming to commit a crime ... They're aware that there's information to contradict that or at least minimize the intervention because they see India and they see Roman going from house to house with him. I am no criminal lawyer but it doesn't sound to me that a tip constitutes probable cause for them to initiate an arrest.
Gina Best: No.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Which seems to me the only justification for the intervention, any justification, is trying to effectuate an arrest. But there's no probable cause, no reason.
Gina Best: None.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Okay. They're following him, they're following India. They see four month old baby Roman is in the car with them.
Gina Best: Yes.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: They follow them for, what, three hours?
Gina Best: Yes, three hours. And the question was brought up, "Why didn't ... " If they wanted to arrest Angelo Perry, just do a traffic stop. Goes back to your probable cause, they had none. So they followed India. So she drove to a Shell gas-
Kimberlé Crenshaw: India was driving.
Gina Best: India was driving her car.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Her car.
Gina Best: Her 1990, whatever, Cadillac. We saw video of India getting out of the car, going into the Shell gas station. She stayed in there for almost five minutes. They did not make an arrest at that time, although they could have. She was in the store and they were separated. They could have arrested him, do a takedown if they wanted to. They chose not to. They wait til India gets back in her car, drives to the 7-Eleven, and at that point, in an unmarked SUV, they launched the attack first. They wanted the element of surprise, which is why they ran into the back of her car with such force, that old Cadillac was lifted up. You could see that impact. Then they threw the flashbang grenades. And then you'll see four SWAT officers in full gear, helmets, rifles with the flashlights on the end of it, the rifles. They jumped out of the back of the van and then they ran to the car and fired over 51 rifle rounds into India's car and Angelo Perry. And they later ...
Kimberlé Crenshaw: 51 rounds.
Gina Best: Yes, ma'am. And the Virginia Beach sheriff ... Chief, excuse me, Jim Silvera said that it was an accident, that they did not intend on killing India. But they certainly did intend on throwing flashbang grenades. And one thing is very clear. If she were white, it would not have played out that way.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: What do you think would have happened? What do you think would happen?
Gina Best: None of that. They would have given her none of that. First of all, they wouldn't have called a SWAT team with a white woman in the car with her baby. You know the outroar that that would have caused. Look what happened with Justine. And they threw that officer in jail. Justine Damond.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Justine Damond, just to point out, is a white woman who was killed by a police officer in Minnesota. That police officer was a Black police officer, Somali of descent.
Gina Best: He's behind bars now.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: He's behind bars right now.
Gina Best: But you name all the Black women, all of the ones and none of them-
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Is there any police officer who's behind bars for killing a Black woman?
Gina Best: No, there are none.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Talk to us a little bit about the communication that you've had and had with the police department. What did you hear? When did you hear it? And what has your relationship been with the police department that took her life since then?
Gina Best: All right. First of all, we were asking for the video. They wouldn't release it.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: You're still not seeing the video?
Gina Best: Not the real, authentic one, no. I don't have India's belongings, her sketchbook, her phone.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: All the things that she had with her?
Gina Best: Nothing. I don't have her purse. I have nothing.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Why is that? These are her personal effects. Why don't you have them?
Gina Best: Because the attorneys said that, to give them to me now is a biohazard because of the blood. These are my daughter's belongings. I want them, even the car. All of that. And let me just share that that night before, a mother's heart knows something's wrong, when something's going on with their kids. I couldn't even sleep. I knew something was off and I was up at like 01:33 in the morning, finally drifted off.
Something doesn't feel right. It's just this strange... I just felt something was wrong. Finally, drifted off to sleep. It was after three, because I remember I was going to watch something on Netflix. Then around seven something India's face shows up on my phone. I said, "India” when I see her face there, thinking. And it was Richard. And he says, "Gina, India is not with us anymore." He paused and I don't remember how I got out of my bed, but I found myself at the top of the stairs.
I screamed and screamed and screamed, and my son and my youngest daughter came out and I was just screaming India's name. Apparently, I ran out of the car. I grabbed my purse and the keys to my car barefoot and I ran out and jumped in my car and I just was trying to drive to get away from what I had just heard. Just trying to get away from that. Since then, there has been no acknowledgment by the police at all. At all.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: No official ever contacted you, ever expressed their regret for taking someone’s life who was innocent.
Gina Best: Nothing. No letter, nothing. The only thing that Jim Savara and Collin Stolle did when they put out that sixth-grade level so-called report, is mention that regrettably India Kager was killed in an operation, regrettably. Still don’t have India’s belongings. They don't want him to give me the car because it's a biohazard. That was India's car. I want to see-
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Where is it now? Where is it?
Gina Best: They destroyed. They sent me a bill from the city of Virginia Beach. Yeah. I'm saying this...
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Shut up. Are you kidding me?
Gina Best: No, ma'am. I'm not. They sent me a bill to pay for the removal...
Kimberlé Crenshaw: The destruction of the car that they murdered your daughter in?
Gina Best: Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: I know people don't know this.
Gina Best: No. No, they don't. What came out in trial was, "Why did you all continue with this operation even when you recognize it was an innocent woman and an innocent baby?" There was a baby in the car, that was asked. They skirted and dodged around that-
Kimberlé Crenshaw: What was the answer?