The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion I’ve lost three loved ones to gun violence. Only the one killed by police did not get justice.

People gather for a vigil honoring Breonna Taylor on what would have been her 27th birthday in New York City on June 5, 2020. (Holly Pickett/For The Washington Post)

DeVitta Briscoe is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and the acting director of Not This Time!

I’ve gotten the worst call of a lifetime three times in my life. The first one came in 2001, when I was told that Himey — my best friend and the man I wish I’d married — had been shot and killed. The second came in 2010, when my son Donald — a great student who dreamed of being a film producer — had been fatally shot in the head. The most recent was in 2016, when Che — my big brother and protector — was shot seven times by police, handcuffed, and left to bleed out for six and a half minutes before aid was administered or paramedics arrived. When aid finally came, it was too late. Another person I loved, killed by a gun.

The aftermath of each of those shootings was remarkably similar: the pain, the loss, the stigma. And yet, there was one important difference: how justice was, or was not, done.

Himey and Donald’s killers were convicted and are in jail, paying their debt to society. Che’s killers can still be paid to protect and serve us, despite the fact that they shot him within nine seconds of approaching him, while he complied with orders, and then blamed it on him reaching for a gun in his waistband. There was no gun in his waistband.

This is a familiar scenario in police killings. There were no murder or manslaughter charges when Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police while sleeping in her own bed. No charges when Stephon Clark was killed in his grandmother’s backyard for the crime of using his cellphone. No charges when police shot and killed Tamir Rice, a child playing with a toy gun. No charges when police shot and killed Marcus-David Peters while he had a mental health crisis. You ought to know the names by now, and if you do, you also know that there are many more.

The lack of charges in these cases wasn’t the only thing they had in common. All the victims were Black. All unarmed. All shot and killed by police officers. And all young — Breonna was the only one of them to make it to the age of 26. Tamir was just 12. If you add up all their lifetimes, they don’t even make it to 100.

Americans are well aware that our society faces an epidemic of gun violence: More than 100 die every single day and hundreds more are wounded in cities and churches and schools and concerts and homes and seemingly everywhere else. But one of the most shameful aspects of this reality is how often — especially for Black victims — police are the ones pulling the trigger.

The thing is, a bullet is a bullet. A gun is a gun. And when the trigger gets pulled, it doesn’t matter who did the pulling. All we can do in the aftermath is seek justice, but when it comes to the police, we are often denied that.

That’s why I’m telling my story today, following House passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — to implore the Senate to pass this bill into law.

The bill, which passed the House last year before dying on then-majority leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) desk, would prohibit federal officers from using deadly force unless absolutely necessary, require federal officers to intervene when other officers use excessive force, limit the transfers of military-style equipment to state and local law enforcement, make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers who kill civilians, and more. Its measures would by no means fix all of the problems with policing in our society, but they would be a good start.

President Biden has indicated that he will sign this legislation if the Senate does pass it. But I worry that momentum has been lost since the summer, as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s names have largely receded from the headlines and many of last summer’s protesters have receded from the streets.

While it mightbe tempting for some to simply move on, to put our ugly past behind us, please remember that there are many of us out there who cannot. Nothing will bring my big brother Che back, nor any of the other Americans who have been shot and killed by police. But with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, we can honor their deaths with action.

The journey toward creating an America where Black Lives Matter and Black people receive justice is long, as it always has been. But this is a critical next step, and we must take it.

Read more:

John Rappaport and Ben Grunwald: It will take more than the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to fix our broken system

Paul Butler: Seven shots. Point-blank range. No charges.

Radley Balko: Correcting the misinformation about Breonna Taylor

Sergio Peçanha: I can’t breathe

No, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, police shootings aren’t ‘a local matter’