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  • Kamsi Obiorah

Deona Marie: Another Protester Fallen Victim to the Extralegal Violence of White Supremacists

On June 16, Courtney Paris, her partner Lavish Mack, and several other protesters gathered in Uptown Minneapolis to celebrate the birthday of a fellow demonstrator named Deona Marie who would have turned 32 that day had she not been killed just days before on June 13. The cake-filled celebration on the physical street of Lake & Girard came to an end at around 11 pm as a result of the request of nearby police officers.

Despite respecting the wishes of the officers by moving off the street and turning off the music, the protesters were still not free from the watchful eye of the police. “They showed up full force with no dispersal warning, even though they told us they would give us a dispersal warning,” Courtney elaborates via our text interview.

In response to the officers charging some of the people that had been celebrating Deona’s life just moments earlier, Courtney and Lavish drove away from the area only to find out by someone who had left a message on Lavish's Instagram Live that their friend was currently having a seizure while being arrested.

After driving back and parking her car in an alley, Courtney went up to the police line with Lavish to advocate on behalf of their friend who had just been having a seizure and was now being yanked out of his wheelchair by local officers.

Courtney explains, “We walked up to the police, and we were telling them, ‘Hey, we know the dude. We just want to make sure he’s okay, because we know his condition. We can tell you what he needs.’” Soon after, roughly sixteen officers on police bicycles headed in the direction of Courtney, Lavish, and the other people in that area.

Taking the lead of other startled nearby civilians, Courtney and Lavish went into Courtney’s car and were soon met with guns pointed at their faces by police officers. Courtney recalls, “They were after us specifically. As soon as we got to the car, we looked back and there were seven guns per person, so I had seven, and he had about seven. These were real guns pointing at our faces.”

Courtney and Lavish were quite literally scared for their lives. Courtney says, “I just slammed my hands against the glass. Just one little bang or one little pop or one drop of a flashlight, and we could’ve been dead. Really scary. Lavish was hanging out of the driver window. My window was up, so I just was yelling, ‘Please don’t shoot me!’”

That night, Courtney became even more familiar with the tactical violence and aggression used by officers to intimidate and abuse civilians. She remembers, “Once I could finally get the door open safely, I got thrown to the ground, and I just kept yelling over and over again, ‘I’m not resisting! I’m not resisting!’”

In contrast to the swarm of officers who showed up ready to terrorize Courtney, Lavish, and the other civilians present that night, just a few days earlier, police were nowhere to be found in the moments leading up to Deona’s death. What started as fun, games, and cheer in the streets of Uptown Minneapolis ended in a tragedy that reflected the violence that protesters are both vulnerable and subjected to on a daily basis.

“The moments leading up to her death were pure fun. It was almost like we completely forgot about protesting,” Courtney says. “We were playing volleyball, laughing hysterically.” Deona was then invited to join in on the fun, so she moved her car from Hennepin Avenue to block off Girard Avenue where the games were taking place.

As volleyball died down, people started playing red light, green light with their backs facing Hennepin. Deona, who did not feel like playing, chose instead to stand next to her car on the curb. Courtney says, “I had just gotten out of the game, and I was crossing the street to walk towards her, and all I could hear was the car engine rev. And I looked, and I screamed, and everyone else just started screaming.” Deona had just been fatally hit by an SUV driven by Nicholas David Kraus.

Courtney says that she will forever hear that car engine and the cars crashing into each other. The little to no compassion shown by the police officers who soon arrived at the scene of the crime did not make matters any better. “They came in with mace out screaming at us,” Courtney recalls.

Despite doing the job of the officers by restraining Kraus, the black men who detained him forcibly had to walk up to the police with their hands up. The officers on the scene were reportedly more hostile towards the civilians than Kraus himself. “Calm, cool, and got him in the car safely,” were the words that Courtney used to describe the manner in which Kraus was handled by the officers.

This particular sentiment was highlighted to me by protester Jamila Darling who also witnessed the aftermath of Deona’s death. “After the police figured out that this was the man that caused so much destruction, they basically tenderly put him in a police car,” Jamila says when we speak over our Zoom call roughly two weeks after that night.

Jamila took careful observation of the hostility and violence that the police officers directed at the civilians: “One of my friends was like, ‘Why are you treating this like we’re the criminals when we didn't even do anything?’ And the police officer responds, ‘Because this is a riot.’”

The officers also maliciously laughed at the protesters with little regard for their collective wellbeing. “A lot of the cops were laughing at us. A lot of them were smiling,” Jamila notes. “They were almost gleeful. None of them acted in any sort of sympathetic or empathetic way towards us.”

Meanwhile, Jamila was still processing what had just happened to Deona. She recalls, “I just remember looking at her body, and then I started running to see if everybody else was okay, but I was a little bit in shock basically.” Jamila relayed the unfolding events to her thousands of followers on TikTok, using the app as a way to spread uncensored awareness about Deona’s death and local law enforcement’s handling of the situation.

Unfortunately, what happened to Deona is not a rare occurrence but rather a particular kind of tragedy that this nation is all too familiar with. Vehicular homicide is a popular method that white supremacists use to unleash their rage on innocent protesters.

A particular case that garnered national outcry in relation to this type of violence was the Charlottesville car attack on August 17, 2017 when James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a “Unite the Right” rally killing a woman named Heather Heyer.

Like Deona, Heather had a passion for racial equality. Following Heather’s death, which occurred just months after former President Trump’s inauguration, people immediately started calling out the Trump administration’s role in the emboldening of white supremacists which especially played out last summer during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

A couple of examples include the BLM protester who was run over by Jared Benjamin Lafer in Tennessee last September and the two BLM protesters named Summer Taylor, who died due to her injuries, and Diaz Love, who suffered from internal injuries and fractured arms and legs, who were hit by Dawit Kelete in Seattle last July.

The interregional extralegal violence that white supremacists use to terrorize civilians utilizing their First Amendment right to protest warrants serious concern and the implementation of measures that ensures the safety of protesters. However, as Jamila emphasized to me, the rights of protesters are instead being actively stripped away due to GOP-backed legislation.

“For example, if you have a gas mask, they made it a felony charge, even though in reality it’s just a way to protect yourself when you’re out there,” Jamila explains, drawing attention to how without gas masks people will not be able to protect themselves from tear gas during protests.

Jamila also brought up how taunts made towards police officers are also becoming illegal. In Kentucky, a proposed law which passed in the senate 22-11 would make anyone who insults or accosts a member of law enforcement guilty of a misdemeanor which could result in up to 90 days in jail. Jamila voices, “Now, slowly and surely they're trying to take away our right to not only organize but also to speak.”

Furthermore, some Southern states are passing ‘anti-riot’ bills that grant immunity to people who hit protesters with their cars. Having witnessed Deona's death and the role that vehicular homicide played in it, Jamila shared her own apprehension towards these kinds of bills.

“In places like Florida, it's legal for you to run over protesters, which as somebody who faced that, this is a real reality. A lot of us—if we weren't playing red light, green light—would have been severely injured or even died, and it wouldn't have just been Deona and the few medics that were hit,” Jamila says.

On the day that she was killed, Deona had been protesting the death of Winston Smith, a black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis on June 3. In an interview with CBS Minneapolis, Deb Kenney, Deona’s mother, spoke about Deona’s particular connection to the injustice surrounding law enforcement’s involvement in Winston Smith’s death.

“She was having her voice heard. It was the one thing that she said, ‘This time mom, this means something to me,’” Kenney says. “I knew that she was gonna use her voice for this. And I’m proud of her for doing so.”

In the short days that she knew her fellow protesters, Deona made a lasting imprint on their lives due to her kind and giving personality. “I only knew her for ten days, but she rode hard for black lives. She was so open with her own trials and tribulations. Her heart was bigger than most,” Courtney says.

Jamila also notes that Deona “just wanted to learn with an open heart.” Deona was always seen asking questions and listening. “She was on the road to bettering herself, learning and growing. Her smile lit up everyone she spoke with,” Courtney recounts.

Described as the first person to arrive at a protest and the last one to leave, Deona, a mother of two, was a dedicated member of the Minneapolis community. For many, Deona’s death serves as a reminder that protesters are killed at whim for their expression of what they believe in.

As a result of the violent police state which works alongside legislators who pass and uphold anti-protest laws, Deona Marie joined the countless other lives that were lost to the ongoing cycle in which the coddling of murderous white supremacists leads to the deaths of innocent civilians.

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