BALTIMORE — BALTIMORE (WMAR) It was an emotional evening on the city's northeast side as families gathered to remember the life of Tyrone West and other's who lost their lives due to police.
"This is not a club you sign up for," said Mark Willis. "But we're here to vent and to ask the community and the world to listen."
Sunday's gathering also served as a candlelight vigil for Tyrone West. The 44-year-old dided while in police custody in 2013. At the time the Office of the Chief Medical Exmainer ruled he died because of heart condition exacerbated by a struggle with Baltimore Police amid summer heat. Officers used batons, fists and pepper spray to subdue West after he fled a traffic stop.
The official autopsy said West died of a heart condition during the struggle. But the family disputed the cause of death and commissioned an autopsy review that concluded West died because he was unable to breathe while restrained.
"They treated him like an animal," said his sister Tawanda Jones.
Jones has been the driving force behind the yearly vigils and recent weekly ones held on Wednesday.
"Our voices won't be silent," she said. "When they kill our loved ones, they kill a piece of us."
The candlelight vigil comes as the Maryland Attorney General’s Office appointed an independent panel to review findings of the medical examiner’s office between 2003 and 2019 when Dr. David Fowler was in charge.
Fowler's credibility came into question when he testified for the defense in the trial of former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin. Fowler testified that George Floyd died not because Chauvin kneeled on him — as he was in a prone position — for more than nine minutes, but because of a variety of factors that weren’t the officer’s fault.
Fowler's critics allege that during his tenure as Chief Medical Examiner often sided with police officers following in-custody deaths.
Tawanda Jones told WMAR 2 News her brother's true cause of death serves as a reminder to question those in power and to stop police officers from killing men of color.
"I just want to let everybody know that were more than hashtags and body bags. We’re more than being six feet in the dirt and pictures and buttons on T-shirts," said Jones. "Our lives matter. I’m not going to stop until killer cops are in cell blocks. I said that from day one and that’s what I meant."