Woman holding a huge sign with a police badge that says Free Masonique Cbus Cops Kill

From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 9th, about 50 activists and community members gathered outside of Franklin County Government Center to stand in solidarity with Masonique Saunders, the teenager whose boyfriend, Julius Tate Jr., was murdered by Columbus Police Department. In the meantime inside the courthouse, Saunders accepted a plea deal to avoid being charged with felony murder as an adult.

Justice Harley, a core organizer in Coalition to Free Masonique has been a member of the organization since January. They briefed the protestors after coming back from the court that Saunders pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and a couple aggravated robbery charges. She pled guilty to a crime she did not commit. She could be incarcerated for 3 years. The sentencing will occur at a late date.

“She thought she had to admit to something she didn’t do. She was put in this position by a system that doesn’t value black lives. That is actively hostile towards them in fact,” said Harley. “She is 17. She will be in prison until she is 20. Think about the mental and emotional toll this will take on her.”

Blizzard Wilcher, a member of Coalition to Free Masonique, gave a background of Saunders case and explained that the multiple police investigation into Tate could be classified as premeditated murder.

Wilcher started the chant, “From Julius Tate to Emmett Till, how many black lives will you kill?”

Sarah Mamo, a black queer socialist activist and artist in the city, explained that income inequality, segregation, and gentrification in Columbus contributes to the criminalization of black youth.

“They are looking for people to set up and target. They know that they will murder them. And they are doing everything they can to evade responsibility,” said Mamo about the cops. “Two years ago we stood on that corner, demanding for justice for Henry Green and Tyre King, and we didn’t get it.”

Celebrities like Siva Kaneswaran, Matt McGorry, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Aja Naomi King, and Piper Kerman have been raising their voices in support of Saunders. Hanif Abdurraqib, a prominent Columbus based poet and writer, attended the action to shed light on the work of anti-racist activists in the city and the historical racism of the Columbus Police Department.

“Because I’m from here, I love seeing people take direct action,” said Abdurraqib.

The struggle against racism in America has been going on since the establishment of the nation. Saunders’ case is one of the many instances of gross miscarriages of justice by the racist judicial system. Resistance will live on as long as there is injustice.

Yashna Panda has been an activist in Columbus for the past 3 years and aspires to report on the voices of the oppressed masses.