Black women who have lost siblings to police violence have formed the Sisters of the Movement group to lobby for federal police reform.
The phone lit up around 5 p.m. Allisa Charles-Findley knew it was her younger brother calling for their daily chat.
“Guess where I’m going,” Botham Jean said.
He was excited. After many long nights working late at his accounting job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he had been dismissed early and was headed home. He planned to watch Thursday night football on the couch while eating his way through a tub of ice cream— his favorite dessert.
The siblings hung up the phone as Jean walked into his apartment. Hours later, Charles-Findley was awakened by a call from a hospital social worker. Jean was dead.
The killer was off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who said she entered Jean’s apartment thinking it was her own and shot the 26-year-old in the heart believing he was an intruder. Investigators found Jean’s opened work laptop and a bowl of freshly scooped ice cream near his body.
“I think I’m still stuck in anger because it was so senseless,” Charles-Findley said. “She saw this big Black man and thought ‘oh, he has to be robbing me’ and shot him.”
Two years after Jean’s death on Sept. 6, 2018, Charles-Findley still mourns the loss of her brother and is channeling her grief with advocacy. In May, she united with other Black women who have lost siblings to police violence to form Sisters of the Movement. The group is lobbying for federal police reform that they hope prevents other Black and brown people from being killed by police.
And they aren’t wasting any time.
In three months, Sisters of the Movement has created a five-point proposal for federal legislation and met with lawmakers including President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who led the police reform platform proposed by Senate Republicans, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign.
The sisters are demanding a “zero tolerance” policy that would disarm any police officer who receives an infraction for excessive use of force; mandatory independent investigations when police use of force results in death; an end to qualified immunity for police; increased oversight of federal funds that go to state and local police departments; and mandatory, independent psychological evaluations and background checks for police department applicants.
“Yes, there are different laws locally,” said Tiffany Crutcher, a founding member of Sisters of the Movement whose twin brother Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2016. “But in order to really hold police accountable, we have to effect change at the federal level.”
Charles-Findley said the sisters didn’t get the support they hoped for from Trump and Scott, the Senate’s lone Black Republican.
Scott blamed Democrats for stalled progress with police reform. He proposed the Justice Act in June, which requires all police shootings and use of no-knock warrants to be reported to federal authorities, and provides more federal funding for departments to better train and recruit officers. The bill was blocked by Senate Democrats who said it didn’t do enough to address police misconduct and racial injustice.
Charles-Findley said she and a handful of other families victimized by police brutality and racist violence met with Trump at the White House in June. Trump promised federal investigations of all of their cases. She has yet to see one for Jean.
“I don’t think they (Republicans) see an issue,” Charles-Findley said. “I think they see it as Black people are complaining again.”
Meanwhile, Charles-Findley said Biden’s campaign expressed a willingness to work with the sisters on police reform. Their conversations with the campaign are ongoing.
The women’s efforts come as the nation reels from a string of police shootings and killings of Black men and women this year that have sparked Black Lives Matter protests and calls for racial equality and sweeping police reform. Among the dead are George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, who were all killed by police. Jacob Blake, shot seven times last week by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is paralyzed from the waist down. Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot by two white men as he jogged through a neighborhood in south Georgia.
All of the victims have sisters who have spoken out about the pain of losing a sibling to police brutality and racist violence.
Letetra Widman, Blake’s sister, said during a press conference last week that she has become “numb” to the unjust killings of Black people.
“So many people have reached out to me saying they’re sorry that this happened to my family,” Widman said. “Well, don’t be sorry because this has been happening to my family for a long time, longer than I can account for. It happened to Emmett Till, Emmett Till is my family. Philando (Castile), Mike Brown, Sandra (Bland)…. This is nothing new.”
The sisters share a special bond
After Jean died, Charles-Findley said she discovered there was no outlet for siblings of Black men and women killed by police. Much of the public attention and support groups such as Mothers of the Movement— an informal sorority of Black mothers whose children have died at the hands of police and who have advocated for political reform since the 2016 presidential election— cater exclusively to the parents of victims.
“The emphasis is always placed on the mom,” Charles-Findley said. “Not that it shouldn’t be, but I saw it as other family members are grieving, too.”
Charles-Findley reached out to other sisters of victims, including Crutcher; Ashley and Amber Carr, whose sister Atatiana Jefferson was fatally shot in her home by a police officer in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2019; and Natasha Duncan, whose sister Shantel Davis was killed by an officer in New York City during a police pursuit in 2012.
The women say they have found solace and friendship in each other. They talk often, send one another heart emojis to signify love and encouragement, and share advice.
Crutcher said the sisters called on her birthday this year. It was a difficult marker of time. She was getting older and her twin brother was not.
All she has now is memories of them sharing chocolate and vanilla birthday cake and having heartfelt talks about their plans to find their purpose and pursue their dreams.
When the twins spoke on their 40th birthday in 2016, Terence Crutcher was excited about starting music appreciation classes at Tulsa Community College. The father of three wanted to become a music producer.
“I’m going to make you proud and God is going to get the glory out of my life,” Terence Crutcher said.
Thirty-one days later, Terence Crutcher was shot dead by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby as he walked toward his stalled vehicle with his hands in the air.
“When he was killed, I felt like she killed me, too,” Tiffany Crutcher said. “But I had to live and I had to fight.”
Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter charges in Terence Crutcher’s death. After her acquittal, Shelby began teaching classes about how police can survive the aftermath of killing a civilian.
Both Crutcher and Charles-Findley say every time an unarmed Black person is killed by police, it reopens their wounds.
It also presents an opportunity to connect with the victims’ sisters and invite them to join Sisters of the Movement.
“No one should have to go through this alone,” Charles-Findley said. “We will support each other.”
Sisters to honor Jean through day of service
The founders of Sisters of the Movement say they also want to be community partners.
Charles-Findley plans to host a “Day of Kindness” in Dallas on Sunday to mark the second anniversary of Botham Jean’s death and honor his love for community service with the hashtag #BeLikeBo.
Jean, she said, often traveled back to their native island of St. Lucia to volunteer in poor communities. He would host puppet shows at orphanages and play soccer with young boys.
During the “Day of Kindness,” Sisters of the Movement will provide meals to the homeless, unveil a mural dedicated to Jean and hold a candlelight vigil.
John Dixon III, a Dallas businessman, partnered with the sisters for the event and plans to offer masks, hand sanitizer and free COVID-19 testing to the local community that day.
Dixon said the sisters provide a source of comfort and advocacy that many Black families victimized by police brutality would not otherwise receive.
“When I look at Sisters of the Movement, I just see a group of powerful women who are looking to be the group of change,” Dixon said. “Me just being a pillar of the community I live in, I just wanted to contribute in any way possible and by any means necessary.”
K.C. Fox, a strategist for Sisters of the Movement, said the group is planning a march for Black women in March 2022 that will center around empowerment with events that teach them how to handle encounters with law enforcement.
Charles-Findley said she wants Jean to be remembered as a happy, God-fearing man who saw the good in everyone.
Jean had followed Charles-Findley to the United States when he finished high school in 2011 in search of better education and career opportunities. He attended Harding University in Arkansas and was offered a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduation.
The siblings bonded over their favorite TV shows— “Power” and “Scandal.” During their last conversation, Jean asked for Drake concert tickets for his birthday. Charles-Findley preferred to get him a set of pots and pans.
Jean would also frequently visit Charles-Findley and her three sons in New York. A doting uncle and role model, he would always give her oldest son his hoodies.
In October 2019, Guyger was found guilty of Jean’s murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Guyger filed an appeal in August to overturn her murder conviction.
Police officers, Charles-Findley said, need stiffer penalties for killing innocent people.
“I don’t look at it as justice because my brother is still dead,” Charles-Findley said. “And Amber Guyger got 10 years and she’s still appealing it, so there is still a lot of work to be done.”