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Community support remains strong as Yuvette Henderson lawsuit goes forward
by Matthew Gerring
Monday Mar 20th, 2017 10:31 AM
A judge in the US District Court in Oakland denied a motion on Monday to dismiss charges in the case of Yuvette Henderson, a 38-year-old woman killed by Emeryville police on February 3rd, 2015.
Henderson’s family is seeking damages from the Emeryville Police Department for wrongful death, as well as changes to city policies on police use of force. Henderson was shot to death by police officers responding to calls alleging that Henderson stole from the Home Depot in Emeryville, showed her handgun to security guards, and then approached several drivers, including a bus driver, with the handgun.

The motion filed by the Emeryville police department claimed there was nothing for a jury to decide in the lawsuit, because officers Michelle Shepard and Warren Williams had a reasonable fear for their safety, because they claim Henderson brandished her gun at them before they opened fire.

Monday’s ruling means the lawsuit will go forward to either a settlement or a jury trial.

Antrinette Jenkins, Henderson’s sister, stood outside the federal courthouse in Oakland with about 70 supporters on the morning of February 23rd, waiting to get into the hearing. She said the crowd that morning was the biggest she had seen in support of her sister.

“It feels good to know we have a lot of support,” she said.

Jenkins said she didn’t hear the news of her sister’s death until the morning afterward, and it hit her hard.

“I couldn’t imagine life without her,” she said. “I’m going through it today as if it happened today.”

Many supporters came in response to calls from the Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP), an organization based in Oakland that describes its mission as “ending state-sanctioned murder and violence perpetuated against Black, Brown and Poor people.”

Activists with APTP demanded the release of surveillance footage in the weeks after the shooting, but were ultimately denied. Emeryville police said body camera footage was not available, because while all of their officers carry such devices, they said the officers involved in Henderson’s shooting did not turn them on until after she was shot.

“We don’t know what the real circumstances were,” said Paul Kivel, an author and educator based in the East Bay, standing in line to join supporters in the courtroom. He said accusations by the police “are not to be trusted.”

Kivel is a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, which describes itself as “a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice”. He said he’s seen a steady increase in attendance to SURJ meetings since the protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of Mike Brown, and another increase since the election of Donald Trump.

Lucy S, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, said she she started attending APTP meetings two years ago after one of her relatives was killed, and another beaten, by police officers. In order to make it to the court hearing, she said she told her parents she was going on a field trip to a museum in San Francisco, and “took a detour” to the courthouse.

Lucy agreed that that the number of people coming to meetings has steadily increased in the last two years, as had the proportion of white people attending. “I feel like white people have definitely stepped up,” she said.

Jamison Robinson, Henderson’s brother, expressed surprise and gratitude at the level of support after walking out of the hearing. He said it was hard for him to hear lawyers describe the details of his sister’s shooting -- he’d never heard anyone break down the minute-by-minute details the way lawyers did in the courtroom. But he said it’s important to him that his sister gets a fair hearing.

“She had a family, people that loved her,” he said. “She wasn’t just a suspect.”