When the death of George Floyd made national headlines in May, six Middle Tennessee teenagers mobilized one of the biggest demonstrations in Nashville’s history. About 10,000 people filled the streets of downtown Nashville for a protest against police brutality.
The crowds protesting a tragedy that happened hundreds of miles away dwarfed the size of protests and vigils for local men killed by police in recent years.
And as Domonique Appleton stood with her family in a corner of the crowd, she wondered where all these people were when her cousin, Daniel Hambrick, was killed by a police officer in July 2018.
“We need your support, Nashville, more than ever,” Appleton sad. “Around the world is amazing. We appreciate them. But Nashville, this is home. This was Daniel’s home. So we need you. Stand with us.”
Nearly two months have passed since then.
Now, on the two-year anniversary of Hambrick’s death, the teen activists who have been at the forefront of recent Black Lives Matter protests are learning where their own hometown fits within the national narrative. They’ve already elevated George Floyd’s story. They want to do the same for Hambrick.
“Because he was a fellow Tennessean, I feel like it’s our job to bring this to light,” says Kennedy Green. The 14-year-old is the youngest member of Teens4Equality, the group that put on two of the city’s largest protests earlier this summer. Last week, she helped to plan a vigil for Hambrick and Jocques Clemmons, another Nashvillian killed by police.
“People need to scream his name like how they screamed Breonna Taylor’s name,” Green says. “I’m not saying take away from Breonna Taylor or from George Floyd or from Eric Garner. But their names should be known, too. And everybody should be angry over them — as angry as they were over George Floyd.”
Green says that, until recently she hadn’t heard of Hambrick or Clemmons.
“Jocques Clemmons’ mom talked to me, so that’s when I learned about Jocques Clemmons,” she says. “I’ve known about Daniel Hambrick since, like, I think three months ago. But I didn’t know he died down here. I didn’t know he died where my mom grew up at. Literally, my mom grew up on the same street [where] he died.”
Green knows there are still other names she has yet to learn.
But she says she wants to do more research about the history of police brutality here in Tennessee, so the victims won’t be forgotten.
Sheila Clemmons Lee, Clemmons’ mother, says that makes her feel good.
“It’s OK that you’re reaching out farther, but you’re showing us now that you’re recognizing the locals,” she says.
And Clemmons Lee wants any help she can get sharing her son’s story. She says the police department has painted an unfair picture of her son and Hambrick. And that they’ve highlighted details about their pasts that shouldn’t be used as a justification for their deaths.
“People are learning about them, other than what the police say,” she says. “They were human beings.”
Clemmons Lee has been advocating for change at the police department since an officer shot her son in February 2017. Clemmons and Hambrick, who were Black, were both killed by white officers while running away from a traffic stop.
“I’m hoping that, one, that the police will think first and react second,” Clemmons Lee says. “Had they thought about what they were doing, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The Metro Nashville Police Department has made multiple attempts to improve its use-of-force training since the Black Lives Matter movement first took off in 2014. But in spite of new implicit bias workshops and de-escalation courses, three Black men were shot by Metro Police in three weeks this spring. One of them was killed.
Soon after, a video of George Floyd went viral. Demonstrations erupted downtown. And Mayor John Cooper announced he would form a task force to review the department’s use of force policies, yet again.
But community organizer Jamel Campbell-Gooch says he’s tired of task forces. He’s ready for drastic changes.
“I’m really excited about what the future is, because I think the change that we need to happen [is] to make sure a Daniel Hambrick doesn’t happen again or to make sure a Jocques Clemmons doesn’t happen again,” he says.
Campbell-Gooch is 31. He says it’s up to older, more experienced activists like him to find ways to empower the next generation of change-makers. And to make sure up-and-coming organizers are aware of the history they’ve inherited.
“When the national protests started and the uprisings took off, people started educating themselves,” he says. “Then, after that, they started educating themselves at home. And, now, they’re wanting to be organized, to make sure our families are held up and they get an opportunity to actually restore their relationships to these systems.”
Campbell-Gooch says Clemmons’ and Hambrick’s families have been standing up for change for years now. And they’re glad others are finally standing with them.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.