RACINE — At 11:30 a.m. on a warm Thursday afternoon, upwards of 200 people attended a rally and march in Downtown Racine demanding justice for Da’Shontay King, a 37-year-old Black man killed by a Racine police officer on May 20.
The throng of people chanted to release the cop’s body camera footage as a plea for justice and closure, which District Attorney Tricia Hanson has refused to give to the family.
In an email with the District Attorney, Hanson wrote to the Racine County Eye that the investigation, being conducted by the Department of Criminal Investigations, was not complete and that the case had not been submitted to her.
Unsatisfied with Hanson’s answer, King’s sister Natasha Mullen spoke about the family’s request to see the footage.
“They’re telling us no,” she said. “They’re saying that they are investigating and we cannot get it right now. The DA claims that she doesn’t have it, hasn’t seen it.”
The rally: A prayer and a protest
The rally began outside the Racine Police Department, and members of King’s family, including Mullen, Dazzmontay King and Tony Epps, Jr., led a group prayer and reiterated expectations for how they wanted the march to go.
“One of the major points of today’s rally and protest is to have the footage released,” Mullen told the crowd through a megaphone. “We need to see the footage. Whether he was right or wrong, we need to see the footage. Because how can we go forward without knowing what actually happened?”
She then voiced her critique of the Racine Police Department and highlighted how the department used tax dollars to pay for the body cameras, but didn’t allow the public to see King’s final moments. She asked for transparency, which was supposed to have been aided by the new tax-funded police equipment.
“Where did it benefit us as the people that belong to this community?” Mullen asked.
Why hasn’t the footage been released?
In that same email to the District Attorney, the Racine County Eye asked for more details about the body camera footage and the factors that go into deciding whether to release it. Hanson replied, “If there are no charges filed, the body camera will be released after I meet with the family, share the evidence with them, and issue that decision. If charges are filed, the video will not be released until after the criminal case is closed.”
In a case where there is an officer-involved shooting, the Department of Justice handles the investigation. They then turn over their findings to the District Attorney, who makes the decision to file charges or not after reviewing the case. However, a District Attorney can release records for public viewing (in this case, body camera footage) at any time if it is in public interest to do so. At the time of writing, the Department of Justice has not updated the status of the case or turned over the case to District Attorney Hanson.
Tax-paying citizens say they deserve transparency
This process frustrates Mike Jackson, whose son is friends with one of King’s sons, and who spoke with the Racine County Eye before the rally.
“We shouldn’t have to be here,” Jackson said. “I’m not here because I think Day Day (King’s nickname) was right. I don’t know if he was right. I’m not here in support of the police saying they were right. I just want to be here to say that as a tax-paying citizen in this community, we should know.”
While Jackson can’t speak for the family, he said that he speaks for the entire community.
“I got a simple, easy request — actually a demand,” Jackson said, aiming his demand at the Racine Police Department. “Have transparency within this community.”
Footage no-shows from previous officer-involved shootings
On the steps of the Racine Courthouse, Kelly Scroggins-Powell, Executive Director of Racine Women for Racial Justice, explained to the crowd the pattern of local law enforcement not releasing body-cam footage from officer-involved shooting deaths.
“In June of 2019, Tyrese West was killed. No footage,” Scroggins-Powell said. “Donte Shannon was killed. No footage. Malcolm James was killed. No footage. District Attorney Hanson receives the information August 23, 2021, and she did not release it to the family until January 5, 2022. She held onto important information that could have helped that family heal a lot quicker.”
West was killed in Mount Pleasant by Mount Pleasant Police Sgt. Eric Giese. At the time, Mount Pleasant police were not required to activate their body cameras during interactions with the public, so footage was never available. Since then, the department has revised that policy, requiring officers to activate their body cameras when they engaged in police activity unless it puts their safety at risk.
James died at Racine County Jail, and short amounts of footage from inside the jail were released by both the District Attorney once it was determined charges would not be filed and Racine County Sheriff Chris Schmaling.
Shannon was shot by two Racine police officers who weren’t wearing body cameras, which prompted the city to buy the cameras.
Chants from the march
“No justice, no peace!”
“Black Lives Matter!”
“Release that footage now!”
“What’s his name? Da’Shontay! Say his name: Da’Shontay! Justice for who? Da’Shontay! Don’t forget about who? Da’Shontay!”
“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down! Until we get it? Shut it down!”
Prominent figures speak at the courthouse
After the nine-minute march to the courthouse, a number of family members and community figures spoke to the crowd.
Scroggins-Powell was the first to speak.
“Da’Shontay mattered. And that’s the message that we want to get across to the Racine Police Department, to the Racine District Attorney’s office, we want everyone to know that Da’Shontay King’s life mattered to us. And as a community, we came together today demanding that they release the footage. You know, there are many organizations, many individuals working really hard in this community to restore trust in our law enforcement officials. But when the District Attorney withholds information that can answer questions, that can restore trust or at least give us some answers, it creates this kind of atmosphere. It creates mistrust. And so we say now more than ever: we want the footage released.”
Next, recently elected County Supervisor Marlo Harmon vocalized her support for the family and her hope that the community continues to stay engaged.
“We’re asking the DA to… not increase the blocking of information that produces less transparency. I am glad that the family is here making the request, and I am glad that I am able to support the family and their request, and I am asking that each and every one of you stay engaged. Stay motivated to make sure that what is done is seen.”
Fellow County Supervisor Nick Demske then provided his thoughts and urged the crowd to attend County Board meetings with the same passion they had when protesting for George Floyd in 2020.
Mary Hooks is a Racine native who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the National Field Secretary for the Movement for Black lives and has organized events for In Defense of Black Lives Coalition among others.
Hooks spoke next, beginning by admiring the courage of those in attendance. She claimed that protesting takes more courage and is a harder decision to make than the many other hard decisions Black people must make in America every day.
She also encouraged resistance in every form possible.
“Even if all you can do is spit on the concrete, if all your resistance looks like is spitting, then my God, I need you to spit! But do not allow fear or anything else take hold and take away your desire to resist, because freedom is inside of our bones, y’all. It’s inside of our bones. And every day it’s a choice. And y’all woke up and chose freedom today.”
The community has questions and criticisms
Despite the answers given by the District Attorney, many in the family and community wonder why the footage is being withheld so strongly in the first place.
Epps, Jr., brother to King, said of the situation, “Whatever he did do, he was trying to get away.” He then expressed that it was unfair for the police to have shot King if he was running away and therefore not a threat to the police.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, King was stopped by Officer Zachary B. Brenner as the subject of a search warrant. King fled on foot and was chased until Brenner saw King with a handgun. At that moment, Brenner shot and killed King.
Mullen remarked similarly at the rally: “Running does not equate a death sentence.”
After the protest, Jackson offered his insight into the violence in Racine.
He began by talking about the pattern of officer-involved shootings, mentioning Donte Shannon and Tyrese West.
“The fallback behind that was, ‘we gonna get body cameras and everybody’s gonna get (to see) it,’” Jackson said. “It happens again and you got body camera footage and you don’t release it? That don’t make sense. ‘Cause otherwise, we don’t need body cameras.”
Jackson also criticized the general lack of discipline from the police in Racine.
“So I’m a combat veteran. When we were overseas… in Iraq, you know, a foreign country, scared as all hell, right? You can’t shoot somebody if you don’t know. You get court martialed. So if I can have to go to a whole ‘nother country, be scared as hell from the time I step off the plane and still be disciplined, and still follow policy and still follow procedures, while gunshots are going off, well (why) the [expletive] isn’t a police officer in Racine, Wisconsin?”
What happens now?
Mullen expressed that there would most likely be other protests or rallies in the future, but that it would be a matter of organizing and setting them up. The possibility of more rallies is dependent on whether the District Attorney decides to release the footage to the family anytime soon.
Scroggins-Powell put it simply: “We’re not making accusations, we just want the truth.”
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