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 Kyle Nazario
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Families Light a Candle to Victims of Houston Police

Families Light a Candle to Victims of Houston Police
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(Javier Perez lights Pat Perez’s candle. The Perezs were one of a handful of families at the protest.)

Jocelyn Dickson entered the hospital on February 14, 2011. She had a piece of food lodged in her throat. She never left. Dickson was 22 years old.

Her mother, Deirdre Dickson-Gilbert, believes her daughter died because of medical malpractice.

“She was special needs and she wasn’t choking, she wasn’t stressed,” Dickson-Gilbert said. “20 minutes upon entry she was gone.”

Dickson-Gilbert tried to bring her claim to the Houston Police Department, a necessary first step for the district attorney to investigate.

“HPD did not even investigate the case when I went to them with the case,” she said. “They never talked to anybody either.”

Dickson-Gilbert was one of 20-some people who came to a parking lot Monday night to protest the Houston Police Department alongside the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.

The small gathering was attended mostly by families of people shot by the HPD. They gathered in small circles, clutching pictures of deceased loved ones and newspaper clippings about their passing.

The families huddled around each other. They held long white candles with paper shields to block wax. Every candle stayed inside a small white styrofoam cup to shield them from the wind.

Speakers included two family members of Blake Pate, a man shot by HPD officer Curtis Hampton. They gave simple statements, but every word cut with an emotional edge.

“It’s devastated all of us,” said Michael Johnson, Pate’s brother.

Katherine Swilley also attended the service. Swilley was a 22-year veteran of the Houston Police Department before she was terminated. She believes the department fired her for speaking out about discrimination.

“The Houston Police Department is like other police departments. If you report police misconduct, they fire you,” Swilley said. “That’s why I was fired.”

The group handed out a paper listing statistics pulled from the Houston Chronicle, Texas Observer, and Channel 11 News.

Between 2008-2012, HPD shot 121 people, 52 fatally. 10 of the fatalities were unarmed. Officers who leave crimes uninvestigated keep their jobs, even with 21 complaints against them. Less than one-third of the 1,200 complaints HPD receives every year result in disciplinary action. Only 7 percent caused a penalty greater than a three-day suspension.

Swilley, Dickson-Gilbert, Johnson, and a dozen others stood behind coalition president Johnny Mata as he spoke in favor of reform.

The families wanted closer investigations of police violence, court judgments that took an officer’s past misconduct into consideration,

“We should be able to look at our police officers with reverence,” said Eric Jones, Pate’s nephew. “We should be able to look at them with pride.”

As the meeting wrapped up, an HPD SUV cruised by. The meeting’s organizers had called them in advance to warn about possible traffic issues.

The officers said nothing. They just kept rolling.

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