This is the transcript of a Seeking Peace podcast episode featuring Kenithia Alston.
Melanne Verveer From Georgetown University, this is Seeking Peace. I’m Melanne Verveer.
In today’s episode, Kenithia Alston talks about her son, Marqueese Alston.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Kenithia Alston speaking at the March on Washington, August 28, 2020] “Shot 15 to 18 times”… is what the community says. And because the autopsy D.C. provided me stated they would not repeat the gunshot wounds, I don’t know how many times my child was shot! “We’re here Ms. Alston to notify you of an incident your son was involved in yesterday.”
Melanne Verveer On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Ms. Alston told the story of how her son was killed in the nation’s capital, by the D.C. Metropolitan Police, just blocks away from the White House. Her story was one of more than a dozen shared as part of the 2020 March on Washington.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Kenithia Alston speaking at the March on Washington, August 28, 2020] Unfortunately, that has been the only formal communication the Metropolitan Police Department has shared with me in regards to my son.
Melanne Verveer In today’s episode, we hear about how women like Kenithia Alston are fighting for peace and security for Black lives in America. A mother turned activist, Ms. Alston spent two years fighting for answers about what led to the police killing of her son Marqueese. She then filed a 100 million dollar wrongful death lawsuit against the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department. Ms. Alston is represented by the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown University’s Law Center.
Producer Erica Morrison in Washington, D.C. has the story.
Erica Morrison Amidst the global Covid-19 pandemic came an awakening. Americans of all stripes became aware of another pandemic that has existed in our country for more than 400 years: systemic racism.
[Archival audio: Protesters changing at a 2016 Protest in Cincinnati] “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!”
Erica Morrison After witnessing the lynching of George Floyd and the truth of police brutality that Black people encounter every day, millions of Americans took to the streets in a fight for racial justice.
And while the injustice that Black people face at the hands of police was news for many Americans, for Kenithia Alston those protests were a constant reminder of a day she will never forget.
Kenithia Alston I was on my way to dinner with a friend and a friend of Marqueese’s called me on my cell phone and as soon as I answered the phone, I could hear panting like [panting] and so I knew something was wrong, and so when I said hello, she says “Marqueese has been shot.” I am a spiritual individual. And so I instantly thought, “Okay, what hospital are we going to? Because I know he’s gonna survive this.” And so I asked her: “What hospital are we going to?” And she said, “We’re not going to the hospital. He’s gone.”
Erica Morrison Marqueese Alston was shot and killed by Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police on June 12, 2018.
[Archival audio: local news outlets reporting on the shooting of Marqueese Alston]
ABC 7 ANCHOR: Bad breaking news tonight coming from Southeast D.C. where police are on the scene of a shooting.
Fox 5 ANCHOR: Earlier tonight D.C. police shot and killed a man after they say he pulled a gun.
Kenithia Alston And so the 10 o’clock news, it had the story on there, but I still was in disbelief because I felt like I had not gotten an official notification from no one within the city, not MPD, no one. I didn’t get that notification until the next day that afternoon. I guess it was around 2:00 PM. And so when the two officers from MPD came to my home, they… was [sic] very limited with what they shared with me in regards to what specifically happened. And so the only thing they said was: “We’re here in regards to an incident that occurred on [sic] yesterday.”
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston says that was the last time she ever heard from Metropolitan Police.
Kenithia Alston Never in my life, did I ever think about having to go through this process, with regards to making funeral arrangements for my children. Of course, I always made preparations for them having to go through this for me. So that time was extremely, it was agonizing. I had so much depression, so much hurt. So much anxiety because the story, from my understanding, was consistently running through the news.
[Archival audio: local news outlets reporting on the shooting of Marqueese Alston]
WUSA 9 ANCHOR: Moments after police shot him, rumors and several stories spread like wildfire on social media.
WUSA 9 REPORTER: D.C. police had to move their offices back, away from upset neighbors. This was just moments after the community learned police shot and killed Marqueese Alston in Southeast DC.
Witness: Get somebody from the Mayor’s office out here, please.
WUSA 9 REPORTER: This live video was shared all over Facebook, got nearly 90,000 views and hundreds of comments. But police say people may be getting fired up off of false information.
Erica Morrison The DC chief of police, Peter Newsham, gave a news conference the day after the shooting.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Peter Newsham speaking at a press conference] A male who was later identified as 22-year-old Marqueese Alston of Southeast Washington, D.C. fled from the officers on foot into an alley. Several MPD officers pursued him on foot, when Mr. Alston produced an illegal, semi-automatic handgun and fired it at the pursuing officers. Two officers returned fire and the suspect was killed.
Erica Morrison That’s the version of events that police gave the media. But they never shared that information or any proof with Ms. Alston. She felt like they were treating her without compassion.
Kenithia Alston I only wanted to know the truth of what happened to my child. And I believe that that isn’t something that is not feasible. Like if this is your account of what happened, where is the full investigation of this? Where are the full facts of this? Just to provide me with a very limited amount of what you state that happens? Like that’s not sufficient. And I, and I don’t know how they would not… I don’t know why they would feel that that is sufficient. Like, it’s not like my son was hospitalized. He’s physically gone.
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston’s distrust of the police’s account of what happened that night comes from previous cases in which police harassed, wrongfully accused and fabricated evidence to justify the killing of Black people.
Painfully, she has tried to reconstruct the night of Marqueese’s death on her own, relying on live streams from the crime scene that appeared on social media taken by people in the neighborhood. Such as this video from Facebook.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Facebook Live Video from community members, the night of Marqueese’s death] They was [sic] right there, The young man had no gun, they didn’t see no gun, they were [sic] like “You the young man.” They were right here. They’re going to spin it because they’re going to say that was their job, they are gun units.
Erica Morrison Again, Ms. Alston.
Kenithia Alston The only narrative of what happened that I had was from the community.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Facebook Live Video from community members, the night of Marqueese’s death] I heard everything. There was no single gunshot, there was just rapid fire.
Kenithia Alston And so I was starting to reach out to the community to find out: “What did they know? What were they saying?” Then I, um, decided to involve legal counsel with me, trying to understand this process and get answers. And then, and so of course when they started to reach out to MPD, then MPD gave, of course, their formal version of how to make the request. And so they initially stated we needed to complete whatever document it was to view body camera footage. We did that, when they responded, they said Marqueese needed to make the request.
And so we had to respond back to say, “Marqueese, can’t make the request.”
Erica Morrison She met with the city’s attorney general and asked that the footage be released publicly. But her request was denied. Instead, Ms. Alston was granted permission to view the body cam footage in private. She was accompanied by her lawyers and older son.
Kenithia Alston We saw the body cam footage, it was only, it was limited, I think, four or five minutes with a narration of their accounts of what happened.
Erica Morrison The footage, at best, is blurry. Here is a short clip of the video that was shared with Ms. Alston, where you can hear a voiceover recorded by the department.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Voiceover from body cam footage, voiceover] The officer’s body-worn camera captures the immediate moments leading up to Mr. Alston discharging his weapon. By slowing down the video, you can see Mr. Alston turn to the left and begin firing rounds at the pursuing officers before the officers return fire.
Erica Morrison But the actions described in the video are not clearly visible.
Kenithia Alston And so after seeing the body cam, I had even more questions because it was, it was, it was a limited amount. It wasn’t the full capture of what took place.
Erica Morrison Nonetheless, it was enough for the police department to justify Marquese’s death. During a press conference, Chief Newsham painted Marqueese as a violent criminal and mentioned that he was recently released from prison. Ms. Alston feels like she was expected to accept this information as enough proof and to keep silent.
Kenithia Alston Marqueese was killed in Southeast, in an area, from my understanding, that was heavily policed, for whatever reason. And so I believe that the stigma for Black family members in the Southeast community is that they’re uneducated, they do not know how to properly proceed in litigation. They do not know the protocol and asking for truth. And so I do not believe that they even thought that I would ask for truth and want to know. I think they, possibly, thought that I was just going to believe what they verbally stated. And I absolutely do not.
Erica Morrison Black men have been shot and killed by police in the United States merely under the suspicion of having a gun. And in this case, Ms. Alston doesn’t even have proof that Marqueese was carrying a weapon, like the police claim. It’s impossible for her to know if her son exchanged fire, because she has not seen a ballistics report and the footage she has seen doesn’t show him tossing a gun, like the police say.
According to Ms. Alston’s legal team, from the body cam footage they were able to identify at least six officers at the crime scene but only two names have been released.
Only unedited footage was given to her legal counsel.
Kenithia Alston That doesn’t match the legislation…
Erica Morrison (interview) Or the accountability…
Kenithia Alston Or the accountability or the transparency. That’s the purpose of the body cam program. That’s the purpose of the tax dollars that’s paying for it.
Erica Morrison She has been pressing the police and the city government, and started going to D.C. city council meetings, testifying before council members…
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Kenithia Alston speaking at a D.C. city council meeting] Good morning, councilmen.
Erica Morrison …trying to figure out what happened to her son.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Kenithia Alston speaking at a D.C. city council meeting] Receiving limited information regarding the Metropolitan Police department killing my son on June 12, 2018, has been an extremely horrific nightmare. I’ve suffered an enormous amount of anxiety, depression and grief, all while advocating for public information.
Erica Morrison In late October 2020, I spoke with Ms. Alston and Victoria Brown, a student attorney at the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic. They represent Ms. Alston and litigation had just begun.
Victoria Brown We ended up filing the suit this summer over, two years after MPD killed Marqueese. So it really is a final effort, to find truth for Ms. Alston and for her family.
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston’s experience is not unique. Countless Black families have been denied information about how their loved ones have died at the hands of police. The Black Lives Matter movement has shined a light on the police brutality that Black people face in the United States. But despite the previous litigation, which ended in no criminal charges, lawyers are still fighting.
Victoria Brown The idea that we are fighting an uphill battle by pursuing this case is exactly why the clinic feels that we need to do it. You know, it’s unacceptable to live in a society where MPD officers can kill a Black man in broad daylight and then continuously withhold all of the information and all of the answers to what happened.
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston is the member of a club that she nor any of the other members ever wished to be a part of: Black mothers who have lost their children to police violence.
Kenithia Alston We understand each other’s hurt, each other’s pain. We also learn and understand how to advocate various laws and legislations and so we learn. But then it’s also a challenge to be a part of this because when you’re constantly hearing so many stories, so many families that have experienced this, it’s draining, it’s awful.
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston is a member of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, which is made up of mothers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia who’ve lost children to police violence. On a larger scale, she is involved with United for Justice, which is family members throughout the U.S. that have experienced police brutality. And she’s found a lot of support from Black Lives Matter D.C.
In her quest for truth, Ms. Alston speaks at rallies and other public events, making sure no one forgets what happened to Marqueese.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Kenithia Alston speaking at a street rally] Release the footage! If your accounts are true of what you said my son did, release the body cam. Because if you see what I saw, you would see my son running away from the police when he was shot.
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston has seen some change. In June 2020 D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed emergency legislation to expand police body-worn camera laws.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Muriel Long speaking at a press conference in June 2020] Today, uh, we are releasing body-worn camera footage for three fatal incidents at the request of families.
Erica Morrison She gave families the option of whether or they want the footage officer-involved deaths to be released to the public. This is a law, Ms. Alston advocated for.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Muriel Long speaking at a press conference in June 2020] And as you review the footage, which will be made available on the District’s websites, and we’ll provide that information.
Erica Morrison The heavily edited footage of Marqueese’s death was part of that release but no further information about his case was shared.
But, later that summer, in the midst of the standoff between President Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter protests in the streets of the nation’s capital, Bowser commissioned a mural to be painted outside the White House in bright yellow letters. It says “Black Lives Matter.”
Again, Ms. Alston.
Kenithia Alston Seeing “Black Lives Matter”, I guess, painted in Washington D.C. by the mayor was very disheartening. It was very agonizing. And the reason I felt this way is because I have not received any condolences, any empathy, any communication from the mayor, from the mayor’s office as to my Black boy, my Black man, my black son being killed. And so if Black lives truly matter, um, what does that look like for the mayor?
Erica Morrison What that looks like for Black mothers like Ms. Alston, is an unrelenting pursuit of truth and police accountability. She does it for her son’s memory, and for Marqueese’s four-year-old daughter, Lyric Marshae.
Kenithia Alston At some point in life, she will definitely want to know what happened to her father. And so it is my full desire to be able to provide to her truth, transparency and factual information of what happened to her father, my son. And so that’s the primary force that keeps me going.
Erica Morrison Ms. Alston says she will not be at peace until she knows every detail that surrounds Marqueese’s case. As a symbol of her fight, she often wears a hot pink sweatshirt bearing the silhouette of her son with angel wings on the front, that says “Seeking Marqueese Truth.”
On the back is a reminder that her fight is not just for her son but for all Black lives lost to police brutality and the mothers fighting for truth. It simply says: “Black Lives Matter”.
Melanne Verveer Kenithia Alston is still fighting to know what led to police killing her son in June 2018. She is represented by a team of student-attorneys from Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic. Students enrolled in the clinic assume the role of lead attorneys in all aspects of litigation and client representation.
William M. Treanor is the Dean and Executive Vice President of Georgetown University’s Law Center.
William M. Treanor Lawyers play a leading role in the fight for social justice. The uprising that we saw this summer, the fight against systemic racism in so many ways is about the law and the way in which it functions. So lawyers are very concerned with what the police do, what the legal system on our books is and on representing individual clients. So we’re both focused on systemic change as policymakers and on systemic change, you know, fighting for people who have suffered injustice.
So lawyers are really leaders.
Melanne Verveer This story was produced by Erica Morrison.
It is our last episode this season. If you like what you heard, please share it far and wide. You can find all of our episodes on your favorite listening app or at seekingpeacepodcast.com.
The second season of Seeking Peace has been a production of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and Adonde Media, in collaboration with UN Women and Our Secure Future.
The lead producer of our podcast is Caro Rolando. Our editor is David Alandete. Our assistant producer is Laura Ubaté. Sound design by Martine Chaussard. Mixing and mastering by Laurent Apffel. Our production manager is Luis Gil. Our Georgetown liaison is Sarah Rutherford. Our executive producer is Martina Castro.
And I’m your host, Melanne Verveer. Thank you for listening.