by Arielle Robinson
“Georgia has a police brutality problem,” Gerald Griggs, attorney for Vincent Truitt’s family, told a crowd of about 70 people gathered in Marietta Square on a Saturday afternoon last month.
The rally was held for the almost one-year anniversary of Vincent Truitt’s killing by Cobb County Police Officer Max Karneol.
On July 13, 2020, 17-year-old Vincent Truitt was a passenger in a stolen car and was shot twice in the back as he was running away.
According to police, and supported by video footage, Truitt had a weapon near him when he was on the ground after being shot.
Police bodycam footage shows that Karneol also handcuffed Vincent Truitt while he lay on the ground, bleeding out and dying.
Truitt died the next day at Grady Memorial Hospital from gunshot wounds.
In February of this year, a grand jury called by Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady took no action against Karneol, stating that his use of force was justified.
The families of Jimmy Atchison, Matthew “Zadok” Williams, Jayvis Benjamin, Jarvis Lykes and Vincent Truitt were present Saturday and called for justice for their family members, all of whom were killed by police.
Atchison was killed in 2019 by Atlanta police, Zadok Williams was killed this year by DeKalb County police, Benjamin in 2013 by Avondale Estates police and Jarvis Lykes in 2017 by a Georgia State Trooper in Columbus.
Loved ones from other police killing victims said that they were at Saturday’s demonstration in solidarity with Vincent Truitt and his family.
The demonstration ended with rally-goers marching in the streets around Marietta Square, chanting for justice for every person killed by police.
Before the rally, Tammie Featherstone, Atchison’s aunt, said that she cried when she first heard of Vincent Truitt’s case.
“I felt like, ‘oh here we go again, another young Black man killed by the hands of the police,’” Featherstone said. “Shot in his back! If I shoot you in your back, I’m going to jail, because that’s one of the laws.”
Atchison’s father, Jimmy Hill, said he is always prepared to fight for justice but he is also very exhausted from fighting.
“I just be so tired looking into these mother’s faces,” Hill said. “The emptiness and the pain, and you see the suffering and the struggle that keeps fighting in their eyes.”
Zadok Williams’ sister Zeporah Williams said that she heard about the event through a Facebook group called “Georgia Moms United.” The group is run by mothers affected by police violence across the state.
Featherstone is one of the people who help run the group.
“This is a community I didn’t know existed before,” Zeporah Williams said. “I would sympathize when I hear stories about George Floyd — all the ones that are getting the national attention, but what’s happening in our own community?”
During the demonstration, Griggs said that Cobb police bodycam and dashcam footage of Vincent Truitt’s killing shows that Vincent Truitt was not being aggressive toward police.
“You don’t see him point a weapon, you don’t see him do anything with a weapon except for run in the opposite direction of the law enforcement officer,” Griggs said.
Griggs also told the crowd of other portions of the police footage.
“We have the bodycam video of what came [after the shooting],” Griggs said. “The officers [were] fixing their hair, making certain comments about ‘well, you know this is gonna be on the news, so we gotta look good for the news.’”
Griggs also said that a voice recording from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s interview with Karneol after the killing shows Karneol telling the GBI he was uncertain if he saw the muzzle of Vincent Truitt’s gun and unsure if Vincent Truitt pointed it at him.
The attorney said the family will be going to the federal government to look into Vincent Truitt’s case.
Griggs said they will be requesting to meet with United States Attorney General Merrick Garland as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“Let’s be very clear where we are in Georgia,” Griggs said. “Georgia has a police brutality problem. It didn’t start with Vincent, it didn’t end with Vincent. We are so thankful to have mothers from all over the state of Georgia standing together with the family of Vincent Demario Truitt.”
Andre Truitt, Vincent Truitt’s father, has been passing out flyers every day, trying to bring awareness to his son’s case.
“At the end of the day, we will get justice,” Andre Truitt said during the rally. “Max Karneol will pay for what he did to my son. Anytime you shoot a 17-year-old in the back, your life is not going to go right.”
Andre Truitt also thanked other families affected by police killings for showing their solidarity.
Vincent Truitt’s grandmother, Deborah Howard, said that Vincent was her first grandchild.
“He was a remarkable child,” Howard said. “He had dreams, he had passion about what he did…Vincent had talent, he wrote music, he wrote poetry, he wrote raps. And so what Cobb County has taken away from us is a lifetime of talent.”
Venethia Cook-Lewis, Vincent Truitt’s mother, remarked that her birthday will never be the same, as her son died the day before it.
“He was a teenager. We all make mistakes,” Cook-Lewis said. “Let him learn from his mistakes. Give him the chance to live — but no, y’all want to kill our kids.”
Families of other Black men killed by law enforcement in Georgia also had an opportunity to speak at the protest.
Each family told their son’s stories as well as explaining their support for the Truitt family.
Like Max Karneol, the state trooper who killed Lykes had no action taken against him by a grand jury and is still working at his job.
Zadok Williams’ family told the crowd that he could have been saved if the police administered medical help. They said the police left him to bleed out and die.
The mother of Jayvis Benjamin, Montye Benjamin, told everyone that a grand jury indicted the officer who killed her unarmed son, but the former DeKalb District Attorney overturned the decision.
Featherstone said that Officer Sung Kim, who killed Atchison, violated multiple laws and protocols. She also said her nephew presented no threat to the point where he needed to be shot in the face.
“We’re not out here just fighting for our children,” Hill said. “We’re fighting for the sake of your children also. Because as long as you’re Black, you got a target on your back.”
When Griggs went to speak again, he criticized Cobb DA Flynn Broady, saying that he broke his campaign promises to Vincent Truitt’s family.
One promise Broady made, according to Griggs, is that he would release the footage of Vincent Truitt’s killing when the family felt comfortable with it.
Broady did not release the tape until after the grand jury made its decision, despite numerous calls from the Truitt family to release the footage.
Griggs also pointed out that the DA’s office barred the family from entering the press conference where Broady announced the grand jury’s recommendation.
At that press conference, Broady announced he would take no further action against Karneol.
Saturday, Griggs said that although Cobb County is run by Democrats, it does not feel like any progressive change has taken place.
Griggs, backed up by the crowd, said that they will vote out Broady when the time comes.
“I promise you you will not be re-elected,” Griggs said.
The demonstration ended with protestors taking the street, marching around the Square multiple times with signs, chanting. There was no visible police presence.
“We gotta end police brutality in our generation,” Griggs said. “We gotta end voter suppression in our generation. We gotta end the evils of racism in our generation. Because I’ll be damned to hell if my 13-year-old has to go through the same thing her grandfather went through.”
Arielle Robinson is an undergrad at Kennesaw State University. She is the president of the university’s Society of Professional Journalists and an editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records.