Why was Yuvette Henderson killed?

March 16, 2015

Police are still refusing to release the video evidence surrounding the killing of Yuvette Henderson by two Emeryville officers, report Anita Winsom and Jeremy Tully.

THE BLACK Lives Matter movement took to the streets in the Bay Area on February 21 to protest the February 3 killing of Yuvette Henderson by police in Emeryville, California.

A march organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) proceeded from the Emeryville police station to a rally organized by ONYX Organizing Committee, Asians for Black Lives and BlackOut Collective, where activists blockaded all entrances to the Emeryville Home Depot, shutting it down for five hours--the period of time that Yuvette's body was left to lie in the street after she was shot and killed.

Yuvette, a 38-year-old Black woman and mother of two, was killed by police after allegedly shoplifting at the Home Depot. Multiple eyewitnesses to her death say Yuvette was unarmed when she was shot. One protest organizer, Adam Jordan, reported that multiple eyewitnesses described Yuvette as, "desperately trying to wave down cars and a bus to get out of the situation, like she was in fear for her life."

As if the shooting death of Yuvette were not troubling enough, according to anti-police brutality activist Mollie Costello, "Multiple eyewitnesses to Yuvette's death say she was shot with an assault rifle through the head."

Protesters built a 30-foot-tall shrine to Yuvette Henderson in front of the entrance to Home Depot
Protesters built a 30-foot-tall shrine to Yuvette Henderson in front of the entrance to Home Depot (Jeremy Tully | SW)

The daylong action for Yuvette drew in several hundred people at its peak, and more than 100 people supported the blockade of Home Depot throughout the day. At all three entrances and exits to the store, activists locked themselves together to stop any attempts by police to remove them. They erected a large shrine to Yuvette in front of one of the entrances, setting up a tower nearly 30 feet tall.

Protest participants showed a high degree of self-confidence and determination. Many of those who spoke throughout the day had family members who had also suffered violence at the hands of police. Activists sang, chanted, danced and held speak-outs for the duration of the action. At no point did police or Home Depot security dare to make any attempt to break up the blockade.

A KEY demand of the protest was the release of all videotapes pertaining to the killing of Yuvette. Home Depot has video of the dispute between Yuvette and Home Depot security guards, who alleged Yuvette shoplifted from the store. Home Depot security guards called the Emeryville police, who later killed her.

Emeryville police shot Yuvette in front of a nearby storage facility, Extra Space Storage. The storage facility is also equipped with security cameras and may have video of the actual shooting of Yuvette. Activists are also demanding the release of Extra Space Storage's video footage.

Of the two Emeryville police officers responsible for Yuvette's death--Warren Williams and Michelle Shepherd--Williams was wearing a body camera when Yuvette was shot. But in keeping with a pattern in other high-profile cases, Williams' body cam was not turned on at the time.

Since Yuvette's death, city officials have dragged their feet in providing any evidence at all as to what actually happened. Not only have they held onto video footage from Home Depot and Extra Space Storage, but Yuvette's autopsy results have yet to be released, even though a month has now passed since her killing.

Yuvette's murder is officially being investigated by the Oakland Police Department. But the Oakland police is notorious for its brutality against people of color and has been under federal oversight since 2003. In that year, the Riders Scandal broke, and it was revealed that Oakland police routinely targeted people of color in West Oakland by kidnapping them, planting false evidence on them, and then beating them to obtain confessions of drug dealing.

In 2012, Oakland police officer Miguel Masso shot and killed Alan Blueford, an unarmed Black teen. Masso was also wearing a body camera that was not turned on when he murdered Blueford.

Protesters note that local media have been complicit in sweeping the killing of Yuvette under the rug. According to Jordan, "Media coverage has been completely cooperative with the police. Whatever the police say, the media repeat it. As the police change their story, the local news change theirs."

It will take continued mobilizations and pressure in the streets to obtain any kind of justice for Yuvette. Body cameras and investigations by other police departments offer no solution.

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