In still and moving photos, the camera captured their pain.
Fifteen mothers converged in Chicago from across the nation to share their stories for the “Truth, Hope and Justice” project, a photo and video exhibit of families and victims of controversial police shootings.
The brainchild of Andrew Stroth, a Chicago civil rights attorney making his mark in the murky world of police brutality litigation, the mothers came from Chicago and all over to have their stories archived.
“Financial settlements are only one part of the equation,” said Stroth, who tapped renowned Chicago photographer Sandro Miller for the project. “We want to effectuate real reform in police departments across the country.”
For half a day on Wednesday, the mothers and their family members sat for portraits at Miller’s West Town studio for the project’s first installment.
“An off-duty police officer killed my son nine years ago,” Alicia Kirkman of Cleveland said through tears. “He shot up my son’s car, while my son is on the 911 tape saying, ‘Sir, my hands is up. I’m not doing nothing.’ ”
Her son, Angelo Miller, 17, was killed March 23, 2007. Her family filed a lawsuit accusing the city of Cleveland of failing to train its officers on how to deal with a suspect fleeing in a car. They settled in 2010.
“Of course, the city settled, like they always do,” Kirkman said. “But can’t no money bring my son back.”
She and the other mothers came to the studio of the photographer honored as “International Photographer of the Year” by the Lucie Foundation in 2014 and 2015 for sessions that ended up taking six hours.
“When I got the call, I couldn’t make out what the person was saying, that Roshad had been shot and killed by police,” Cynthia Lane said, her attempts to stop the tears stopping the recording. “When I rushed over there, they wouldn’t let me past the tape. I kept telling them I was his mother.”
Roshad McIntosh, 19, was killed Aug. 24, 2014, on the West Side. Lane’s wrongful-death lawsuit, accusing Chicago police of killing her son without justification and conspiring to cover it up, is pending in court.
“At the hospital, I’m begging, ‘Please, could I just see my baby? I just want to kiss him,’ but they wouldn’t let me,” Lane said. “I never heard nothing like that in my life, that when a person dies in a police shooting you’re not allowed to see them.”
With the arrival of each mother, there were hugs, chatter. They knew each other, having attended vigils and anniversary-of-death events to support one another. Coming or going into the portrait rooms, there were more tears and hugs.
Why were they interested in reliving this pain?
“I wanted my son’s story to be heard,” said Tambrasha Hudson, whose son Pierre Loury was killed April 11 on the West Side. “I wanted to be able to express how I was feeling. It’s been hard. I have good days. I have bad days. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m confused. It’s a pain that’s unbearable.”
Hudson’s pending lawsuit accuses the Chicago Police Department of engaging in longstanding and racist practices that “result in the unjustified deaths of people of color.”
The aim of the project is to include 75 to 100 families in this collection of photographs and narrative, according to Stroth, whose Action Injury Law Group is working on several Chicago police shooting cases.
“We want to help mobilize and empower the mothers to have a voice in the movement and help drive systemic change,” Stroth said.
After the portraits, a reception followed, then a little fun. The women and their families were treated to a night out — attending a Maxwell and Mary J. Blige concert at the United Center.
Joining them at the reception and concert were others with stakes in the police brutality arena. Among them was Glenda Hatchett, attorney for the family of Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer who shot him repeatedly during a traffic stop in Minnesota in July as his girlfriend streamed it live on Facebook. The officer was charged with manslaughter.
“It’s an honor to be here with these women,” said Hatchett, of Atlanta, formerly of the reality TV show “Judge Hatchett.” “I have a great respect for them and the Action Injury Network for taking on this project.
“We have to really demand that we do things differently in this country. That’s why I took the Philando Castile case.
“There has never been a situation where a police officer was charged in these type of cases in Minnesota. So the charges in the Castile case are historic. But I’m not naive as to how difficult these cases are to try. What I really hope is that they will begin to change the conversation that we’re having in this nation about these police shootings.”