Baltimore, MD — Tyrone West was a tall, dreadlock-sporting Baltimore native who grew up on the city’s east side. He loved his family, sporty cars, and his artwork, and had a joie de vivre about him. On July 18, 2013, Tyrone’s life was snuffed out, when he made one “wrong” maneuver in the vicinity of Kitmore and Kelway Road, not far from Morgan State University. Police noticed him driving under the speed limit as he went over a speed hump on a quiet side street (Kelway), and stopped him. They pulled him out of his vehicle, it is said, by the locks and started beating him. According to the States Attorney’s report, they hit him with batons on the knees to get him down. However, eyewitnesses report far greater use of force, saying Tyrone was surrounded by a “sea of blue” and that police continued to punch and to kick him even after he was already down. When it was over, Tyrone lay dead. He had not been charged with a crime, arraigned, tried, or convicted. He was a victim of a police force of control and unaccountable to the People.
Ten to fifteen police officers, including a Morgan State University police officer, were identified as participating in the murder. None of them was suspended or fired. The States Attorney Gregg Bernstein, known for his racially predicated prosecutions–and withholding of prosecutions–did a perfunctory investigation and found the officers had acted according to police protocol. Despite a plethora of eyewitness testimony supporting the view that excess force had been used against Tyrone, not a single indictment of a police officer was handed down in the case, leading many to surmise that the police were above the law in Baltimore (as in many other major cities). When Bernstein was unseated in the subsequent election by a relatively underfunded and lesser known challeger, many said the West case had been a determining factor–one one-sided prosecution too many. In the meantime, Tyrone’s murder still went unprosecuted and the medical examiner’s office continued to withhold the complete autopsy report.
On the one-year anniversary of Tyrone’s murder, activists and supporters of the West family rallied at the site of the murder. The event was called by the family and facilitated by a local grassroots collective called the Baltimore Bloc. The activists included young and old; Muslim, Christian, Jew, and atheist; Black American, Asian, African, Caucasian, and Native American; students, blue-collar workers, health care workers, attorneys, candidates for office, and even a delegate.
The candidates included David Anthony Wiggins (Baltimore City Sheriff candidate, running on a platform against police brutality and judicial corruption, and for the empowerment of the People); Russell Neverdon, Sr., (candidate for States Attorney); and Duane G. Davis (candidate for Lieutenant Governor). Wiggins, Neverdon, and Del. Jill P. Carter (Maryland House of Delegates) spoke, expressing solidarity with the family.
Wiggins promised that when elected Sheriff, he would prosecute police engaging in abuses such as that against Tyrone West, as this was a power endowed to the Sheriff (Editor’s note: Sadly, the standing Sheriff, Anderson, in office for decades, has never employed it in defense of his constituents, who, like West, are brutalized by police or otherwise abused by corrupt government officials).
Several Christian preachers, including Baltimore’s social conscience Rev. Heber Brown III (Pleasant Hope Baptist Church), Rev. Kinji Scott, and Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, were present. Masjid Jamaat al-Muslimeen, in Baltimore’s Govens neighborhood, sent its imam, Dr. Kaukab Siddique, mosque administrator Ashira Na’im, and a contingent of half a dozen others to “stand with the family of Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality.” Red Emma’s, a well known Peoples’ bookstore, was also well represented at the event.
Baltimore native Abdul Salaam, a Muslim, was beat by police in a manner very similar to Tyrone West just 17 days prior to the latter’s murder. Salaam, a soft-spoken, slightly built man, addressed the crowd briefly. He described how he had passed police conducting a stop near his home. The cops followed him home, pulled him out of his car, and attacked and beat him in his own driveway, in front of his 3-year old child. They claimed he was not wearing a seat belt (he has steadfastly maintained that he was wearing one). Salaam was body slammed to the ground twice at the start of the attack, hogtied (with his hands and feet behind his back), and beat further. He was never charged with a crime.
He eventually ran across the West family at one of their weekly protests, dubbed “West Wednesday,” and was shocked to find the similarities between their story and his. Most alarming was the fact that the two police officers who beat him–Chapman and Ruiz–were among those who had participated in the murder of Tyrone West. Both families were befuddled as to why the officers had been allowed to continue on the police force after attacking Abdul Salaam. If normal judicial procedure had been followed, they would have been removed after the attack on Abdul Salaam, and hence been unable to participate in the attack on Tyrone West. Abdul Salaam and the West family have since joined forces and filed a civil suit against the police.
Initially torn by whether or not to hold the event at the very spot where the murder occurred, with all its horrific associations, the West family eventually decided to proceed with it. Despite the emotional toll involved, the family felt they owed it to Tyrone to come together at the very spot where a completely gratuitous act of savagery took his innocent life. They released black balloons, shared Tyrone’s beautiful art, received messages of solidarity, said prayers, and marched. They left just before sunset, aware, at least, that their beloved Tyrone had not been forgotten.
© 2014 Nadrat Siddique
This piece was reposted with author’s permission from her Facebook, where you can view pictures of the event.