Movement mothers to troubled Charlotte: Your vote matters

Geneva Reed-Veal and Maria Hamilton, whose children’s deaths helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement, were in Charlotte last month to campaign for Hillary Clinton. They watched with dismay as news broke that a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer had killed Keith Lamont Scott, and as Charlotte’s streets erupted in riots.

They returned Friday as part of a three-day push by “Mothers of the Movement” to get North Carolina voters to the polls. Their message: If you want to end killings and police mistreatment of African-Americans, start by voting.

“We are tired of seeing hashtags. We are tired of seeing buttons with our kids’ photos on them,” said Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, died in a Texas jail cell last year after a state trooper pulled her over for failing to use a turn signal.

“This is the most critical election in the history of the United States,” Hamilton said. Her son, Dontre Hamilton, was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer in 2014.

Reed-Veal and Hamilton spoke to about 15 volunteers at the Clinton campaign’s West Boulevard headquarters as they prepared to knock on doors to urge people to vote. The work isn’t glamorous, Reed-Veal said, but it’s an important part of the effort that includes protests, advocacy and lobbying.

The two women were among a dozen mothers who first met with Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president, about a year ago. They came to national attention as a group when they spoke for her at the Democratic National Convention in July, and many have continued to stump for Clinton.

On Sept. 20, when the women were campaigning in Charlotte, many residents were shocked to see protesters take to the streets, blocking traffic, breaking windows and being tear-gassed by police. Hamilton and Reed-Veal had seen it before in the aftermath of their children’s deaths.

Like their children’s deaths, Scott’s started with a minor incident that escalated.

Scott, 43, was in his car outside a northeast Charlotte apartment complex when police arrived to serve a warrant on someone else. Officers said they confronted him when they saw that he had marijuana and a gun in the car; he was shot after he got out of the car and officers said he pulled the gun.

Dontre Hamilton, 31, was sleeping in a Milwaukee park when an officer roused and frisked him. He was shot 14 times after they fought and Hamilton grabbed the officer’s baton.

Bland, 28, was taken to jail after a traffic stop turned into a physical confrontation. She was found hanging in her cell three days later. Reed-Veal contested the official finding that her daughter killed herself and won a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

“You have an uprising of the people who say, ‘We’re not taking this,’ ” said Reed-Veal. “We feel like the power’s in the vote. Your vote is your voice. That’s what I believe.”

The “Mothers of the Movement” tour will include visits to Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Raleigh. Clinton is scheduled to appear with the group in Raleigh on Sunday, and will speak at a rally at UNC Charlotte Sunday afternoon.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

Marshall Park rally

A rally against police brutality and repression is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Marshall Park, part of a national day of protest organized by a group called the Oct. 22 Coalition.