Activists call for justice for Kevin Davis, camp in Decatur Square
DeKalb man was shot by police officer after dialing 911
- Robert Isaf
- Activists marched from the apartment where Davis died to Decatur Square, where they camped
Nearly 70 people gathered at the DeKalb County courthouse steps last night to rally around the death of Kevin Davis, who died on New Year’s Eve, and to demand call for greater accountability from law enforcement officials across the state.
Davis was shot by Officer J.R. Pitts in the home Davis shared with his girlfriend, April Edwards, on Jan. 29 and died from the gunshot wound two days later. The Wisconsin native had been assisting Edwards, who had dialed 911 after being stabbed in the arm by a friend during a heated argument.
The courthouse rally was the centerpiece of a much longer protest program, which started with a 5 p.m. march from Davis’ home just outside Avondale Estates. The 2-mile march was met by what protesters called an unexpected police escort consisting of DeKalb and Avondale police units. Officers rerouted the march away from its intended path along College Avenue and Trinity Place and instead down East Ponce De Leon Avenue.
Following the hour-long rally, a core group of protestors calling themselves the #Justice4KevinDavis Coalition moved into Decatur Square itself, setting up tents and promising to spend the night as a message of their demand for justice.
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The first courthouse rally for Kevin Davis took place last Wednesday, a month to the day after Davis' death. During that occasion family members and community protesters demanded police be more transparent and be held more accountable. First, they wanted DeKalb police to formally request the Georgia Bureau of Investigations carry out an independent inquiry into Davis’ death.
In the following week, DeKalb Police Chief Cedric Alexander, who became a recognized advocate for greater police transparency and accountability following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., agreed to that demand. Last night, the coalition protestors called for the implementation of Citizen Review Boards of police forces across Georgia, to ensure greater community oversight of local police action.
DeLisa Davis, the victim’s sister, criticized county law enforcement officials for not allowing family members to visit with Kevin while he was being treated in the hospital before ultimately dying.
“Not one time were we allowed to see him, speak with him or pray with him or anything,” she said. “They treated us like we were yesterday’s garbage. Until this day we have never heard from anybody from DeKalb County, not even the night they murdered him. We haven’t heard an ‘I’m sorry’, nothing.”
She wants Pitts off the streets, and the aggravated assault charges against her brother removed.
“He was a hard-working man,” she said. “He never had a criminal record. But he died with one.”
Alexander last week told reporters that the officer fired after Davis appeared in the apartment with a gun and refused to drop it. DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann said in a statement that the department routinely restrains arrestees and grants visitation only in “grave situations.” It would review the circumstances surrounding Davis’ time at the hospital, Mann said.
Around 8 p.m., protesters began setting up tents began in Decatur Square. Protesters unable to make the march and rally kept arriving long into the night, and those unable to sleep over left with promises to be back before the morning commuter rush.
It’s the commuters that the #Justice4KevinDavis Coalition is targeting with these sleep-outs: the hope is that workers arriving Thursday morning will be confronted not only with tents, but with questions.
The highlight of the rally came in the form of poems from two coalition organizers, both with the group It’s Bigger Than You. Yoehzer Ben Yeeftahk rose first, reworking Akon: “They don’t want us to fight for our freedom, but it don’t matter no.”
He was followed by Aurielle Marie, who drew the most explicit connection to the wider #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“We fight as we mourn,” she said. “If this world belonged to me I’d make black bodies able to breathe fire.”
The relationship between protestors and police was cordial; Decatur police observed the sleep-out but did not attempt to interfere. Yeeftahk called the march’s police escort “preemptive cooperation,” noting that they rerouted the march away from Decatur’s commercial district. Some protesters played games such as “Apples to Apples” and “Scrabble.” Others stopped in to Siam Thai for dinner and Jenni’s for ice cream, while making sure that the surrounding businesses knew what was going on.
The week before, organizer Jim Chambers said, the sleep-out took place in front of the courthouse "because we were speaking to the people in the courthouse.”
Now that message has been heard and responded to, they’ve moved to the square.
“This wasn’t so much about disruption as it was just engaging with people in the public,” he explained. “Escalation wasn’t our aim in being here. Our aim was being here and making a little noise.”
The coalition has promised to continue camping out on Wednesday nights indefinitely, until they feel that justice has been done and their demands for appropriate reform have been met.