One year ago, Tacoma police killed Manuel Ellis. A silent march honored him
A silent march led by religious leaders took place on Sunday in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, to honor Manuel Ellis ahead of the one-year anniversary of his killing by Tacoma police on March 3, 2020.
Ellis, 33, was a Black man, musician, and father of two.
About 200 people, mostly dressed in white, walked silently to the beat of a single drum along Martin Luther King Jr. Way for one mile, from South 23rd Street to People’s Park.
The march was modeled after the 1917 ‘Silent Parade,’ in which nearly 10,000 Black women, men, and children marched through Manhattan wearing white in protest of racist violence.
A catalyst for the historic 1917 march was the East St. Louis Massacre in which a violent mob of white men and women burned, looted, and destroyed entire Black neighborhoods, killing the people who lived there.
“100 Negroes Shot, Burned, Clubbed to Death In E. St. Louis Race War,” reads a newspaper headline from Tuesday, July 3, 1917, in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
Reverend Dr. Leslie Braxton, a pastor at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, spoke to the crowd with a megaphone. He drew parallels between the 1917 massacre and the police violence Black communities face today.
“That’s the burden that falls on us. It’s the reason why unarmed people like Manuel Ellis can be hog-tied by people who are supposed to protect and serve,” he said. “Because when you’re Black, you’re always suspicious.”
“We wear white — a symbol of peace," he continued. "And we will march silently. The only thing you will hear is the cadence of that big drum behind you, which will mark the cadence of our steps.”
“Sometimes silence can scream,” he added.
Family members of Manuel Ellis, including his sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, and brother, Matthew Ellis, led the front of the march along with the Ellis family’s attorney, James Bible.
The Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, the Tacoma Action Collective and many community members marched silently in solidarity with the Ellis family as well.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Ellis' death on March 3, 2020 was a homicide — the direct result of oxygen deprivation due to physical restraint.
Like Eric Garner and George Floyd, Black men who were also killed by police while in their custody — in New York and Minneapolis respectively — Ellis’ final words included the assertion: “I can’t breathe.”
And like Daniel Prude, a Black man who was killed in police custody in Rochester, New York, a spit hood was placed over Ellis’ head shortly before he died.
“We want to make sure that Bob Ferguson knows that Tacoma does not forget trespasses against us,” said Jamika Scott, with the Tacoma Action Collective, to the crowd at People’s Park.
“We won’t forget Manny Ellis,” said Scott. “We won’t forget the harm that the police have caused in this neighborhood; in this city.”
The Tacoma police officers involved, Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Masyih Ford, and Timothy Rankine were placed on administrative leave immediately after Ellis' death. But they returned to duty after an internal investigation ruled they had not violated department policy.
Records later revealed that two previously undisclosed law enforcement officers — a fifth Tacoma police officer and a Pierce County Sheriff's sergeant — were also physically present on the night of Ellis’ death.
A conflict of interest marred the already flawed investigation.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department investigated the case for a time. But the involvement of the previously undisclosed sheriff’s sergeant, which came to light several months later, disqualified the agency from independently investigating Ellis' killing.
Additionally, two eye-witness accounts told a drastically different story than the story the Tacoma Police Department shared regarding the events of the night Ellis was killed, according to the Seattle Times.
“I fear that it’s going to happen again here and it’s going to be worse — and we’re not going to find out right away because they like to cover things up” said Monet Carter-Mixon, the sister of Manuel Ellis. “And they’re not transparent.”
“They don’t have systems in place,” she added. “There are no checks and balances at all.”
Video footage captured by witnesses later revealed officers choked and tased Ellis, directly contradicting Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer's statements that Ellis was not choked at all, according to The Seattle Times.
Tacoma police officers were not equipped with body-worn cameras at the time.
The witnesses also described seeing Tacoma police officers aggressively instigating the fatal encounter, contradicting one officer's statement that Ellis had picked him up and slammed him to the ground.
Following the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s ruling in June, the four officers were placed on paid administrative leave for a second time, pending the outcome of a state investigation.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office will determine whether to file criminal charges against the officers involved. A decision is expected in roughly five weeks.
“It’s not a black and white issue,” said Reverend Braxton. “This is a blue issue.”
It's an issue of right versus wrong, he added.
“Poor people and powerless people pay maximum sentences for minimum crimes, while people who have power are able to break the law and walk because others involved in the criminal justice system are criminally unjust."
“We the people demand that justice be served,” he said. “There is a mother who is shattered that will never be the same. There are siblings who will never see their brother again."
“There is a church band who doesn’t have a drummer today, because he ran across some cops who thought it was okay to assault him with impunity and hog-tie him. He was literally lynched on the pavement. Don’t get it twisted,” he said. “He was literally lynched on the pavement.”
“It’s been way too long,” Carter-Mixon, Ellis' sister said. “It’s time for us to see some type of action here. Waiting it out is not good for anybody.”
“Our family is hurting a lot,” added Matthew Ellis, the brother of Manuel Ellis. “Every single day a tear is shed. We want justice for my brother.”
At People’s Park, a communion service was shared by those in attendance against the backdrop of a mural of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. across the street.
“So my brothers and my sisters, as we go in peace, we go with passion, to fight,” Braxton said in closing remarks. “Let us march on ‘til victory is won. The fight is only beginning.”