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Korryn Gaines vigil remembers her life, establishes a counter narrative

Korryn Gaines vigil remembers her life, establishes a counter narrative
Ryan Gaines, Korryn Gaines' father speaks at a vigil at City College (Photo by Reginald Thomas II)

Ryan Gaines has a whole lot to say. His daughter Korryn is dead—shot, no, assassinated some say, by Baltimore County Police after a six-hour standoff in Randallstown on Monday—and she was a freedom fighter and she better be remembered as such.

"If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything" is something he taught her, he recounts to 200 or so on Friday night at a vigil for Gaines at City College, where she graduated in 2010.

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Behind Gaines, balloons spell out "Korryn" and nearby, rows of candles also spell out her name and near that, candles construct a Basquiat-style crown shape. Off to the side, a photo of Harriet Tubman, who infamously wielded a shotgun during her underground railroad missions—and will soon be on our twenty dollar bill.

The 49-year-old father of six delivers a game-kicking sermon wherein all of the "Can I get an Amen"s you expect are replaced with the more colloquial "you feel me?": children in Flint and Baltimore and damn near everywhere drink "glasses of lead" and Korryn's head like his other kids' heads is full of lead and he doesn't think that's a coincidence or an accident; the police continue "to demonize" his daughter; milk is not even milk here in America, but pus and other shit stuck in there to contaminate and control minds; and he discusses the conveniently bungled history that preaches a white Jesus, just one of many things that white people have retrofitted.

Funny how they won't take credit for lead poisoning whole communities and the so-called "black-on-black" crime that he says they enable through allowing tragedies such as lead poisoning to take hold: "[White people] take credit for everything else, why won't they take credit for teaching us to kill each other?"

Other speakers of the night include Ralikh Hayes of Baltimore Bloc who calls Gaines "a mother, warrior, sister, cousin, niece"; poet Kondwani Fidel who reads his poem 'Welcome 2 America' ("Welcome to America, home of the slaves..."); and activist Tawanda Jones who welcomes the Gaineses as part of her "new extended family" and encourages them to "never stop" fighting.

The vigil is as much a corrective as a remembrance. The family feels forced to bypass the pleasantries of "proper" tribute and grief to jump right to righteous anger—the first steps toward establishing a necessary counter-narrative to police and media portrayals of their loved one.

Certain talking points return throughout the evening: If Gaines threatened to kill the police if they didn't leave, why didn't they leave and return with a new plan, why'd they just go ahead and shoot her?; if she was indeed, "mentally ill" as they say, isn't that further evidence they shouldn't have shot her?; some people can't shake that haunting video of an officer in the entrance of Gaines' home silent, gun pointed at her; that Gaines anticipated and was prepared for this kind of confrontation and that it speaks to a long history of black armed struggle.

When Creo Brady, Gaines' cousin, steps up to speak, he invokes a black ancestry that bends back far beyond Black History Month taught in schools to ancient times that is too often ignored or downplayed. He also says that the family was kept out of the situation and told by police it was "way beyond" their being able to help as early as 10 a.m. He said that in the hospital Kodi Gaines, Gaines' son who was also shot by police, was surrounded by police and security.

"When I am surrounded by security I don't feel safe," Brady admits. The police, he says, "wanted to put [Kodi] on lockdown" after the family put out a series of videos of Kodi Gaines recounting the shooting.

Michael Mason, another cousin of Gaines, says that when he showed up at the scene he was stopped by police and "asked...about the movement" and searched. He works at "a mental facility" and adds that Gaines' mother, Rhonda Dormeus, "is a registered nurse, a psych nurse at that...so you have two mental health professionals in the building that also have personal relationships but you didn't tap into that."

Black consciousness is vilified in this country he says next, especially "after that incident in Dallas where that man had a dashiki on." Now, "a dashiki is the latest uniform of mental illness." It's curious how we define mental illness in the United States, he says: "For a man in body armor with a machine gun to shoot a five-year-old boy and think he's a hero? What's the name of that mental illness?"

Mason acknowledges the Gaines family's conscious, aware, and empowered tradition.

"You hear how my family is speaking," Mason says. "You might not agree with all of it, but it's not completely ignorant, it's not completely negative; you might not agree with it, you might not want to accept it but this is the same information that Korryn was around, same information that all my family is around."

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