On a recent Tuesday morning, Angela Naggie and her daughter Cadine Williams huddled with a dozen supporters outside San Francisco City Hall. Naggie was there to file a claim for damages against the city — the first legal step in the process of trying to hold San Francisco police accountable for the death of her son, O'Shaine Evans. Activists unfurled a banner in which "No Justice, No Peace" had been scrawled boldly in green, yellow, and black — the colors of Jamaica, the country from which Naggie and her children had emigrated in 1992. Protest chants reverberated off the Civic Center's stone facade.
Leaving the small rally outside, the family and their lawyer, Jaime Gutierrez, passed through a security checkpoint and asked where they could turn in their damage claim form. A sheriff's deputy directed them toward a room in the cavernous building's far northwest corner.
Squeezing past brides and grooms who were waiting to complete their marriage licenses, Naggie and her group pressed up against a crowded counter. A clerk appeared from behind a cubicle looking confused. "You do not file claims here," he said, directing the family up several flights of stairs to a different room.
Led by Gutierrez, the group searched the corridors, climbed a winding stair case, deciphered confusing building maps, and backtracked for a minute, before entering an office in the opposite corner from where they had started. Again, a clerk appeared with a surprised expression, arching her eyebrows. "You want 1390 Market Street, seventh floor."
O'Shaine Evans' family walked back down the long hall and descended another winding staircase, as if trying to escape a labyrinth. The morning's quest was symbolic: representing the maze-like criminal justice system that can bedevil families who have lost loved ones to the bullet, baton, or the choke hold of a police officer.
Outside City Hall, under a light blue March sky, Naggie and Williams seemed unperturbed by the runaround. They set off for the next office with a slightly larger group of supporters in tow. At a street corner, an open-top tour bus rolled by. "San Francisco thinks it's a liberal bastion!" a man holding a megaphone shouted at the curious visitors. "When they take tourists around town, they shouldn't take you to the Golden Gate Bridge! They should show you where the SFPD kills Black and brown youth!"
Homeless people stood or sat along the sidewalks near the public library. Most of them are Black, Latino, and Native American. Many are elderly and disabled. Some nodded in recognition of the cause marching by. A Google bus with tinted windows rumbled past, heading for a freeway onramp.
At 1390 Market, Naggie, Williams, Gutierrez, and a few supporters packed into an elevator. On the seventh floor, in the San Francisco Controller's Office, Gutierrez filed the claim for damages. Minutes later, they regrouped with their supporters and marched to 850 Bryant Street — San Francisco police headquarters — where they rallied. "Let's go shut 'em down!" Williams yelled.
O'Shaine Evans, 26, was shot and killed by a San Francisco cop on October 7, 2014 while he sat in his mother's car with two friends near AT&T park. The police accused Evans of being involved in an auto burglary, and say he brandished a pistol at an officer. Evans' family rejects this account and suspects the police of covering up an unjust shooting. They've organized several vigils and rallies and built a website for their cause. Plus, they've done a whole lot more.
Since Evans' death, his mother and sister have become tireless activists for police accountability, appearing at protests and speaking at events in Oakland, Stockton, Richmond, and beyond. They've shown support for other families seeking answers and challenging the police narrative of why their loved one died. And in the process, they've become part of a bigger family.
Since last October, Naggie and Williams have embraced — and have been embraced by — the mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives of people slain by the police. None of them chose this bond, but long before Ferguson, Missouri became a flashpoint of protest against police brutality, before the killing of Eric Garner galvanized a movement, before Baltimore erupted and #BlackLivesMatter became a call to arms, Bay Area families have been fighting back by building a network of those directly affected by police violence.
Cadine Williams remembers when she first saw the video of Oscar Grant being shot in the back by a BART police officer in 2009. She felt outraged. "I kept watching it and thinking, there's no way they're going to let this cop off." She witnessed firsthand the rebellion in Oakland's streets that eventually forced the criminal trial of then-BART cop Johannes Mehserle, but she didn't join the marches. "I've always thought about how corrupt this world is," Williams said on a recent afternoon outside her Oakland home. "But I wasn't out there protesting anything. I was just living my life." She wasn't an activist. "You never think something like that could happen to you," she reflected. "But then it did."
On the morning of October 8 last year, Williams awoke to a missed call and message from her mother. The message was terrifying. "Cadine, the police killed your brother."
Williams prayed it was a bad dream, or a mistake. O'Shaine was her baby brother. She remembers when he was born: When he came home from the hospital, he was small enough to hold in one hand. Although Williams has memories of her childhood in Jamaica, O'Shaine grew up mostly in the United States. In the Bay Area, the family settled in the Golden Gate neighborhood of North Oakland.