Excerpt from the Introduction to the 2nd edition of Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement

In the fall of 1996, a friend who was organizing for the first National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality asked me to help out. In the course of attending meetings, I met some of the relatives of victims of police killings. When I heard their stories of how their loved ones were killed, I was horrified. Like most people, I had believed the news accounts of these killings which usually describe the victims as criminals posing an immediate threat to the community. After meeting with many relatives and eyewitnesses over the course of the past three years, I now know that this widely promoted notion is very far from the truth.

Continuing to attend meetings, I would hear about police killings occurring weekly and decided to keep track of these deaths. I began my own newspaper research and compiled the results. When I could, I contacted family members for their version of events. I have yet to come across an eyewitness account which corroborates the police version of events.

At the same time, three organizations, the Anthony Baez Foundation, named for a Puerto Rican young man killed by an illegal police chokehold, the National Lawyers Guild, and the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation initiated the Stolen Lives Project. In 1997, they published the first edition of Stolen Lives which listed 500 cases of people killed and brutalized by police and border patrol agents since 1990.

I soon joined up with the Stolen Lives Project. With a grant from the San Francisco Foundation and a gift of fiscal administration from the Sonoma County Center for Peace & Justice, I collaborated with Project Censored at Sonoma State University and began a search of Lexis-Nexis and other national newspaper databases for cases of police brutality for the year of 1997. That search produced approximately half of the cases listed in this edition.

Simultaneously, public service announcements filmed by artists and families of victims aired on MTV. Organizations such as Physicians for Social Responsibility contributed funds to air the announcements on Black Entertainment Television (BET). These announcements called on people to send any information they had about someone who’d been killed by police to the Stolen Lives Project. Many individuals and organizations, among them the Center for Constitutional Rights, spread the word about Stolen Lives. Victims' families and friends, lawyers who handle police brutality cases, and local civil rights groups sent in stories. These are some of the many ways we uncovered these cases.

© 1999 by Karen Saari

Contact the Stolen Lives Project: stolenlivesprojectonline@gmail.com
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