The May Day weekend in Tacoma was dedicated to Jacqueline Salyers and the efforts to bring justice for her and her family. Beginning with a candlelight vigil on Saturday night, the activities continued on Sunday, May Day, with a spirited march and rally through the streets of the city and to Tacoma Police headquarters. The Justice for Jackie message was carried to Seattle as well, as Salyers’ uncle James Rideout headed up a group to participate in May Day there. A coalition of 20 organizations (see sidebar) all came together for the weekend in a truly united front to call for police accountability and for transparency in investigating police shootings like the one that took the life of Salyers and her unborn baby on Jan 28.
Gathering at Sawyer Park before sundown on Saturday, the mood was peaceful and prayerful as people arrived to take part in honoring Salyers at the site of her death on South Sawyer Street. It was there that a name was given to her unborn child that night – baby Justice – in a fitting honor for the little one’s spirit that has crossed over to the other side.
“It’s a wonderful sight to see so many of our community both tribal and non-tribal,” Puyallup Tribal Council Member Tim Reynon told the crowd. “There are so many people here who are hearing the message of Justice for Jackie. We’re just so grateful that you’re here supporting us and our community.”
Among those there to add their voice and support was Sarah Morken, South Sound Jobs with Justice secretary and a volunteer with 15 Now Tacoma to raise the minimum wage. Morken was one of the first from the non-tribal community to come forth and offer her knowledge and organizing experience to the Justice for Jackie efforts.
“We just went to our national (Jobs with Justice) conference and one of the things they talked about was to work on campaigns that have to do with our values,” Morken said. “We value the working class and the poor feeling safe in their neighborhoods. That spurred us to get involved.”
Salyers’ cousin Chester Earl said Jackie’s story is bigger than Tacoma, as it’s moving to a national level in Indian Country and beyond. “It’s organically taken on a life of its own. If we ever had a chance to make some change, this is the time it’s going to be and a lot of organizations are saying that too – to get behind this family and find justice for them. Now we’re working for justice for all.”
Others whose families have been hit by police violence attended the vigil and the march the next day, including the family of Daniel Covarrubias who was shot in the head and killed, just as Salyers was, in April of last year by Lakewood officers David Butts and Ryan Hamilton. The officers’ actions were ruled as justified, citing that Covarrubias’ cell phone looked like a gun.
“There are so many of these police brutality cases where the facts totally don’t add up but they’re getting away with it left and right so it’s good that Jackie’s family is not going to take this sitting down,” Morken said. “You have to put public pressure on the system to get any justice.”
Ahousaht First Nations member Pat John prayed for and cleansed Covarrubias family members with a protection song and eagle feather at the vigil and the rally the next day
Moving from the park to Salyers’ memorial nearby, the crowd held candles to light the darkness, which beautifully illustrated the work they were there to do so that the young Puyallup woman’s death would not be in vain. Justice for Jackie volunteers plan to clear out all the blackberry bushes surrounding her memorial.
“We want to make a positive impact on this neighborhood,” Earl said. “This is part of teaching our kids how to be good people.”
Reynon pledged that Justice for Jackie is not going away. “We are going to continue this march, this fight, until we see justice, until we see change, until we see a system in place that is transparent. Our community has suffered a great loss. Anytime anyone in our community passes away it hurts. We love Lisa (Earl, Salyer’s mother) and the family – they are an example of someone in our community going through a tragedy and being strong to persevere.”
MARCHING FOR JUSTICE
On a hot and sunny May Day, Sawyer Park again was the gathering site for the march that ended with a rally at Tacoma Police headquarters. Before heading out, the crowd heard from numerous speakers including Daniel Covarrubias’ sister, Lanna Covarrubias.
“When I look at Jackie’s picture, I see my daughter, my granddaughter, I see the way our ancestors saw us when we were subjected to genocide and we’re still subjected to it now and they hide behind the law like they always have,” she said. “I am angry. I am outraged. I was marching for John T. Williams in 2010 and I didn’t think this would ever happen to my brother. My brother knew Chester (Earl) for 20 years and now Chester is out here rallying because now it happened to his family. Don’t let his be you. I wake up every day with pain in my heart and anytime I see somebody else murdered by police I mourn and I cry and it happens over and over and over again.”
Puyallup Vice Chairwoman Roleen Hargrove said she was there not only as a Tribal Council member but also as a mother and grandmother. She pointed out that just like the demise of Tacoma’s proposed methanol plant, change happens when communities unite.
“That shows what can be done by all of us working together,” she said. “Neighbors here are being intimidated by police officers, the very people that are supposed to be here to protect us, not harass us. We have been harassed by the best and we will not stand down. We will not tolerate that kind of disrespect for our tribal members, for our Native community, for our community in general.
“We are calling for outside investigations as a tribal government to make certain that something like this never, ever happens to any of our tribal members ever again. We are watching. We are here. We are going nowhere.”
Puyallup Tribal Council Member Sylvia Miller said it’s a shame that the actions of one or two police officers forces communities to view all police as threats rather than protectors.
“Our children are afraid to go to them; we’re afraid to go to them and it shouldn’t be that way. Not every officer is bad – there are some good ones out there. Just like all of us, there’s good and bad in everybody.” She said the fight will continue for an outside investigation into the facts of Salyers’ death. “That is the goal of this Tribe.”
Moving to Jackie’s roadside memorial, the marchers prepared to head out as a bald eagle soared overhead. A peaceful march was the order of the day. “Our message is always going to be peace,” Earl told the marchers.
With lively chanting and drumming, the marchers wound their way to 38th Street and stopped at the intersection of Steele Street, blocking traffic for a brief and rousing moment with Loretta Gutierrez Sacks, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, on the bullhorn encouraging everyone to stay the course. At police headquarters, the assemblage heard from a number of speakers highlighting issues ranging from workers rights to the environment and saving Tacoma water.
“Some people may be wondering what Justice for Jackie has to do with saving our water and it has everything to do with it,” Earl said. “It’s about having healthy communities, having a healthy place to live, having healthy air, being treated properly by the police, being treated properly by our elected officials. All these issues are one and if we fight them together we can accomplish them one by one.”
Justice for Jackie meets next on Monday, May 9, 6 p.m. at the Puyallup Tribe’s Youth and Community Center, 5803 N. Levee Rd. “We invite everyone to come out and be part of the healing. We are an open door for everybody. When we say Justice for Jackie is justice for all, there’s true meaning behind that.” Like the Justice for Jackie Facebook page to stay informed.