The fact that Rekia Boyd’s name might be familiar to you is a testament to her family and local Chicago activists’ persistent and effective organizing. Today marks four years since detective Dante Servin killed Rekia in the North Lawndale neighborhood. She was unarmed and hanging out with friends when Servin shot her in the head. He was off-duty and carrying an unregistered gun at the time.
Servin is the very rare police officer who was actually tried for the extrajudicial killing of an unarmed Black person. In fact, prior to him, it had been 17 years since a cop was tried for killing someone in Cook County. A Servin conviction would have been shocking.
But he was not convicted. In April 2015, Judge Porter dismissed all charges against him essentially on a technicality, suggesting that the prosecution had mischarged the officer.
Rekia’s family and their supporters were understandably outraged and angry. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother, shouted in court when the judge issued his decision: “You want me to be quiet? This motherfucker killed my sister!” Martinez along with other supporters was dragged out of the proceedings by deputies. Dante Servin walked out of the criminal court building at 26th and California a “free man,” allowed to carry a gun and to patrol the streets again.
Over the past four years, the indignities have piled up. Rekia’s family and community fought for over 18 months to get an indictment of Servin by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. They waited three years for Servin’s day in court. They did not get the justice that they sought. Yet rather than dampening their spirits, Servin’s acquittal galvanized Chicago activists and organizers who have rallied behind the demand to #FireServin.
Since May 2015, Chicagoans have packed police board meetings to call for Dante Servin’s termination without pension from the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Firing a CPD officer is a three-step process. In September 2015, after a lengthy investigation, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) recommended that Servin be fired. Then in November, former police superintendent Garry McCarthy concurred. The last step in the process is a hearing set for May 2016 before the police board after which a final decision on his employment status will be rendered.
Rekia’s name and her story have been uplifted in the many #BlackLivesMatter actions and protests that have/are taking place across Chicago and the country. At last October’s International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference in Chicago, for example, a group of women and gender nonconforming people of color shut down access to McCormick Place where thousands of law enforcement officials from around the world were gathered. The protesters wore t‑shirts emblazoned with Rekia’s image. It was more than a symbolic gesture or simple commemoration: It was a statement that Rekia is not forgotten and that her spirit lives in current organizing and protests.
On Tuesday, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was defeated in a Democratic primary in her attempt to win a third term in office. Her defeat can in large part by blamed on her handling of police violence cases including Rekia’s. Rekia’s name and story were consistently raised during the direct actions that targeted Alvarez through the #ByeAnita campaign. Writing on Facebook a couple of days before the primary, Assata’s Daughters, a key organization in the #ByeAnita campaign, explicitly cited Rekia as an inspiration: “The message is “Vote Out Anita” but the reason is We <3 Laquan and We <3 Rekia. All of this has been for them. Literally blood, sweat, and tears have been poured into this campaign.”
There are countless stories of women and gender-nonconforming people who have experienced police violence. Yet, as political theorist Dr. Joy James has written: “The death of women in police custody by means of law enforcement measures to discipline and punish is an issue rarely raised in feminist explorations of women and violence or masculinist explorations of racism and policing.” So it was unlikely that the country would come to know Rekia by her first name. She was young, Black and a woman. Of those identities, being a woman is a distinct disadvantage in the political economy of public memorialization.
The names that we lift up (when we memorialize Black life at all) are usually attached to cisgendered heterosexual men: Sean, Mike, Eric, Rodney, Amadou, Tamir. Recently however, through the #SayHerName mobilizations, more women and gender nonconforming victims and survivors of state violence are being made visible. Visibility is a necessary precursor to accountability. This is in part of Rekia’s legacy.
At trial in April 2015, Rekia’s close friend Ikca testified that once Dante Servin began shooting, all who were gathered ran from his bullets. Ikca hid behind a large tree to avoid being shot. She saw Rekia on the ground injured and dying. Ikca was prevented from riding with Rekia in the ambulance. In fact, the police at the scene threatened to arrest her if she didn’t leave. Ikca told the judge that Rekia hated to be alone.
As we mark the fourth anniversary of Rekia’s tragic killing, her family, friends and community are still mourning her loss and are more determined than ever to win a modicum of justice for her. Rekia is not alone. She has a community of thousands fighting against state violence in her name and memory.
Rest in peace, Rekia. Rest in power.