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?
Gina Best: That they felt that the... What word did they use? Exigent circumstances. I'm trying to get it verbatim, warranted moving forward. Here's the problem with that. There was nothing exigent.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: The only thing was exigent was they were getting hyped up and ready for their kill, and no innocent person's presence was going to change that trajectory.
Gina Best: And then the chief, when he made his news conference said that the officers involved are going to need therapy because this has impacted them.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Oh my God.
Gina Best: But nothing mentioned of India's baby. Jim Silvera mentioned that those police officers, he was concerned about the mental being of the police officers on the killing. Nothing about India, nothing about the baby, nothing about India's little sister, India's big brother, me as India's mother. And nothing about our family.
After murdering India, they put out on the news, to make India seem like a horrible mother, that they had to send an officer to Walmart to buy the baby bottles and diapers. She breastfed. She didn't have bottles.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: An innocent woman is trailed, surveilled and killed by a SWAT unit?
Gina Best: An entire lynch mob.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: The story is not how outrageous is this that this Black woman has been shot down in front of her child to boot. The story is we have to go to Walmart to get bottles. That's what people are upset about, rather than the taking of her life?
Gina Best: Exactly. They repeated that over and over in the localized news. The baby, for three days, they wouldn't even let me know where Roman was, my grandson. They did not answer the phone calls of where Roman was. He's in the hands of strangers and they wouldn't even let me know... They would not return... I was calling, even in my messed up state, trying to find out where's my grandson, where's my grandson? And even in that, they refuse to give me any information about where my grandbaby was. Refused. Three days.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Did you know if he was even, if he was hospitalized?
Gina Best: I didn't know if he was hospitalized. Honestly, I didn't even know if he was alive, and the only way I found that out, was when they had the press conference September 8th, that the baby was placed in Child Protective Services. And then, in the hands of a foster parent. The foster parent told me that when she got Roman, she had the hardest time. He couldn't even take sustenance from a bottle, the plastic, because he was breastfed, India breastfed. Whenever I would babysit for her, it was only for a couple of hours, because he would then need to be at the breast. But he had cuts on his little legs from the glass, the shatter the glass. He had human tissue in his hair, that she had to remove. Blood on his clothes.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: She lunged to protect him.
Gina Best: She turned- yes.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: So we're in a moment now where the political cry is "Trust Black women.” We hear the Black women are the most politically mobilized of any constituency. We hear about how Black women are holding up these movements. And then on this other hand, when it comes to India, when it comes to Korryn, when it comes to Tanisha, when it comes to those of us who have been killed by the police, all that "Trust Black women" stuff, well, I just wonder what happens to it. Where does it go? Where do you think it goes?
Gina Best: It completely vaporized because it was vapor to begin with. It is not something that is based on an actual, tangible trust. It is something that people should do, but never really have. And I can marry the two in the fact that the statements, India got herself killed. Tanisha got herself killed, Korryn got herself killed. So there is this, now this movement, this fable, trust Black women listen to Black women. If that were the case, then why are we still rallying and crying to be heard and seen, in death?
Why is it that we still, even as mothers, we are still here fighting for our daughters speaking, but we are exhausted. I've no doubt Kalief Browder's mother died of a broken heart syndrome. We live with that. No doubt that Vicky McAdory died of broken heart syndrome. We live with that. And yet even the healthcare, we don't get the healthcare we need. They don't listen to us about our childbirth. They don't listen to us about our mental health needs. We can't even get the men in our so-called homes to listen to us and stop hitting us.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: What about other Black women?
Gina Best: Other Black women, we’re downright nasty to one another. We tear one another down so that we get the-
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Are you surprised?
Gina Best: Am I surprised?
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Yeah, are you surprised that there haven't been more Black women supporting and saying the names of your daughters? Are you surprised that Black women... That it's a struggle to even get Black women to say the names of your daughters?
Gina Best: I will say this because I have to bring myself into the fold here. I have questioned how conscientious I would have been had this not happened to my daughter because I, without really casting a finger, pointing a finger, I've looked at me. What were my mores? What were my thought processes before?
Kimberlé Crenshaw: So what would you have done when you, when you step back and look at you, Gina, prior to the killing of your daughter? If you had heard this story from another mother, what do you think you would have thought?
Gina Best: You are supposed to be your sister’s keeper, your brother's keeper. But I was faced with the hypocrisy that I really probably would not have been, because I would not want the fear of losing my own life. And wouldI have thought that that sister brought it upon herself? Deep down inside, I believe that yes, I would have had some of that because I wouldn't be with a criminal. I wouldn't be with someone like that. I wouldn't be... We walk with that, where we don't want to look at ourselves. We don't want to let it pierce and really ask... Does it matter if I have a degree and my sister doesn't? Does it matter that I drive this car and my sister doesn't?
Kimberlé Crenshaw: And it could be that we don't want to think about our own vulnerability.
Gina Best: That's exactly what it is.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: None of us want to think that we could be innocently going about our business of the day or sleeping in our beds at night and the police can take our lives from us and it not register anywhere. And that I think, is one of the reasons perhaps, that drives this effort to distance ourselves. We want to think that we could exercise judgment out of this risk and the reality is that there's no exercising judgment that's going to get us out of this risk. If police are able to kill people in their homes because of a botched raid or open fire on a car with a woman in it, who they know is not suspected of anything ... If they're able to do that to them, they could do it to any of us. And that's a hard reality I think, for many of us to confront. So we find some other way.
On one of our earlier episodes of Intersectionality Matters!, I had a long conversation with Dorothy Roberts and we talked about how to breed us, there had to be some kind of exemption to the ideological way in which motherhood was framed as special. And so if motherhood is special, then what accounts for the ability of the system to breed us and separate us from our children? So the ideology that we're not that connected to our children, that our family bonds are not that strong, that our desire to parent, our desire to have this special relationship, eh, it’s not so great. So yeah, we can kill mothers in front of their children just as quickly as we can take children away from their mothers.
This is as present as the blood in the soil is.
Gina Best: Yes it is.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: So when you talk about India being killed in front of her child and Korryn in front of hers and Tanisha in front of hers.
Gina Best: Miriam Carey.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: And Miriam Carey in front of hers. It's hard not to see history sitting in that disregard.
Gina Best: Yes, yes. And it also ... Something else comes to thought, as you were speaking. Well, when people say, "Well, I'm not racist because I have Black family members."
Or, "I'm not racist because I have Black friends." Or, "This family member of mine is Black." But they've distanced themselves from the reality is, slave owners’ families were Black, too.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Yes. That's an inconvenient truth that all of the folks who say, "We're going to fix this by creating interracial families." They kinda miss that, no wait. This started with trying to fix a need for labor by creating interracial families. That has never been a protection against racism. It hasn't been a protection against cruelty. This is no fix to anything-
Gina Best: No it’s not.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: There are some people, not everybody, but some people who are marching on behalf of Breonna Taylor. Long time coming, doesn't happen for many Black women killed by the police. Was there a March? Were there vigils? Were there demonstrations, songs being sung, memorials being established for India?
Gina Best: None.
Kimberlé Crenshaw: How does that make you feel?