Sometimes, tragedies can lead to triumph. That is the case with Families United: out of the heartache and pain that came from horrible events has come an organization doing real good, every day, for others who are affected by police violence and misconduct.
Origins Of Families United: The Tragedies Of Breonna Taylor And Jacob Blake, Jr.
On March 13, 2020, the United States and the rest of the world was shocked by the senseless murder of Breonna Taylor in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky. On that tragic night, the Metro Police executed a no-knock warrant, looking for drugs they never found, which were reportedly trafficked by a person who did not live with Breonna or in her complex—someone who they already had in custody.
Breonna was only 26, an award-winning EMT and first responder who was known by everyone as being kind, giving, and devoted to her family and community, working her essential job during the pandemic and putting her own health on the line for the sake of others. As of today, justice still has not been served for Breonna or her family. Her death not only left a hole in the fabric of the lives of her family and loved ones, it also caused a ripple effect in the social justice fabric of the United States.
A few months later, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 29-year-old Jacob Blake, Jr., was shot multiple times by police, leaving him with permanent and debilitating medical problems, including being paralyzed for life. The young man will never fully recover from his injuries, which were caused by the police. There has been no satisfactory resolution to this situation, either, with the charges against the officers dismissed.
What Is Families United's Mission? Supporting Victims, Survivors And Their Families Impacted By Police Violence And Misconduct
But there can be beauty from ashes: Breonna’s murder, and the assault on Jacob Blake, Jr., along with the murders, assaults, and unjust arrests and prosecutions of many other Black Americans at the hands of the police, sparked protests and drives to change current legislation, including a push to end qualified immunity for police against prosecution. Organizations have formed to raise awareness of the need for these changes and to ultimately ensure justice for all Americans. Families United is one such organization, formed by Breonna Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, and Jacob Blake, Jr.’s father, Jacob Blake, Sr.
Families United describes itself as “a coalition of families who have lost loved ones to police brutality, mass incarceration, gun violence and racism.” The organization started small, but has quickly become a powerhouse. They support those who have been harmed by police violence and misconduct, and raise awareness about racial injustices, while at the same time calling for change in these systems that continue to foster and protect those who perpetrate those injustices. They focus on victims and survivors of police brutality along with their families, and help them by traveling to the families’ homes, where they provide emotional support while assessing what resources the families may need during their time of crisis. After this initial assessment, Families United then begins to pool resources, organize community engagement activities to raise awareness, and provide critical knowledge gained from their own lived tragedies. They also provide victim advocacy and mentoring through a continued and sustained relationship with each family.
Families United Founders Bianca Austin And Jacob Blake, Sr. Face Dangers In The Fight For Justice
Ms. Austin and Mr. Blake, Sr., travel extensively, going wherever they are needed to lend support in locations where police violence and misconduct have caused harm. They have rallied with the families and communities for Daunte Wright, Cameron Lamb, Jason Walker, Jayland Walker, and more. Their efforts have raised awareness, but they have also put Austin and Blake, Sr., in harm’s way, as is the case with many justice advocates.
At a July 2022 rally for Justice for Jayland Walker in Ohio, who was killed by Akron police after a traffic stop, Austin and fellow organizers Cortez Rice and Michael Harris were arrested, and Blake, Sr. was assaulted by the police and had to be hospitalized. They were all charged with misdemeanors, including disturbing the peace. Police violence at that Akron rally was such a problem that Austin, Blake, Sr., and Rice, as well as others who were victimized, have filed a lawsuit against the city of Akron, Mayor Dan Horrigan and Akron police officers for violation of civil rights and unlawful use of force.
Ongoing Trauma From The Murder Of Breonna Taylor
The murder of Breonna Taylor is still a source of conflict and controversy. Even after a federal Department of Justice investigation into the Louisville police department revealed multiple, egregious violations, nothing has been done. The DOJ report stated that it "has reasonable cause to believe that Louisville Metro and LMPD engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law. Louisville Metro’s and LMPD’s unlawful practices harm community members and undermine public safety."
Breonna’s death is a wound that will never stop hurting. "Breonna's presence is still very much so missed and mourned more than normal,” said Bianca Austin. “It's still a constant battle to seek accountability for Breonna Taylor. This year the DOJ released the final investigation as it relates the murder of Breonna Taylor and still no arrest for her actual murder. Not to mention we are pleading with to community to get out and vote to ensure Attorney Daniel Cameron does not become the Governor of Kentucky. The same Attorney General who lied about prosecuting the officers who killed Breonna. It a never-ending battle to say the least."
Ongoing Trauma From Jacob Blake, Jr.'s Shooting By Police
Jacob Blake, Jr., is living every day with the pain and trauma that was caused by his shooting by the Kenosha police. His family hurts and grieves with him. His father, Jacob Blake, Sr., said, "Jacob Blake, Jr. is in constant pain. His rehabilitation has been rough and very challenging. Despite all of Jacob's challenges, he continues to be an amazing father and hero to his children."
What's Next For Families United?
Despite these roadblocks, the organization is not stopping. Families United is heavily focusing on legislation in different states to end qualified immunity for police, a policy which has led to the murders of Breonna, George Floyd, and many other victims being swept under the judicial rug, with the perpetrators never paying any real consequences for their actions. Families United plans a national demonstration in Washington, DC., in 2024, and is coordinating events all over the country to memorialize victims and advocate for families affected by police violence and misconduct. They host workshops via zoom with impacted families bi-weekly, to help educate the families and learn about legislation in their area. They are in the process of fund-raising and applying for grants to fund the opening of a physical office location and to purchase a sprinter van for the organization, so they can stop working out of their own homes and not use their personal vehicles for traveling.
Through the fires of personal hells, Bianca Austin and Jacob Blake, Sr., have emerged to bring comfort, energy, resources, and, hopefully, justice for others.
To support Families United, visit thefamiliesunited.org.
Shawanna Vaughn is an internationally-renowned humanitarian advocate and the founder of Silent Cry, Inc., a nonprofit human rights organization that takes a holistic approach to aftercare from mass incarceration, gun violence, and trauma. Silent Cry works to support children and families impacted by poverty-related trauma. The team provides resources to those currently and formerly incarcerated, striving to help people heal through the process of self-development and overcoming grief. Silent Cry additionally raises awareness of Post-Traumatic Prison Disorder, calling for comprehensive prison and policy reforms across the country to address training for core competencies in all trauma-informed mental healthcare.
For more information about Silent Cry and how to get involved with community advocacy, visit silentcryinc.org. Support the Post Traumatic Prison Disorder legislation by clicking here, and donate to Silent Cry's other programs by clicking here.
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Featured image: Families United founders Jacob Blake, Sr. (left) and Bianca Austin (center) are on a mission to get justice for victims and survivors of police violence (C) Families United