A Nigerian mother identified as Helen Adesuwa Uzamere, has cried out for justice after an American police tased her son until he was unconscious.
The aggrieved woman wants the officers who allegedly assaulted her son, Shioma, and ”imprisoned him wrongly,” to be fired for wrongful imprisonment.
Narrating what happened, she wrote: “I am not sleeping much these days, I worry about my son. I am a Christian with deep faith but cannot help wondering where he is when hours pass, and I haven’t heard from him. To avoid being a worrywart, I often ask his sister to check his Instagram account. The test is if he has posted something that day.
This was not my story until March 17, 2019. It was 10:50 AM when I settled into my seat in church. It was my mother’s 80th birthday, and I had been running around organizing a surprise event. I looked at my phone, perhaps to make sure it was off, and saw six missed calls from an Indianapolis number. My son lives in Indiana, but it was not his number. Mindful of fellow congregants, I curiously played back one of the message recordings. Heart pounding, I heard the message start with the words “an inmate at the Marion County Jail…” Was this a hoax? I had not heard from Shioma in at least 24 hours. Although this was not unusual, it occurred to me that I hadn’t received the video tribute for his grandma. He is very dependable. I ran out of the church, trying to maintain my dignity as I wobbled in my six-inch heels. It felt as though my body was drained of blood. I was in a panic. Was my son dead? Jail? Collect Call? Indianapolis?
He had been arrested the previous day. He was in custody and was not allowed a phone call until the following morning. His phone had been taken from him, and he had only memorized two numbers – mine and that of his grandmother. Grandma hardly knows when her phone rings, and Mommy was running around, trying to prep for a party. He had called me SIX times! His voice was progressively sadder on each recording. He could not reach anyone; he had never committed his sister’s number to memory.
Shioma’s dad and I split when he was three. Many told me to let his dad raise him as women are “not role models” for male children. I refused and began bagging degrees and certifications to afford him the best schools in affluent white English neighborhoods. His grades were inconsistent and frustrated me, but he had a natural ability in sports. From the age of six, Shioma won medals, often gold, in 100m, 200m, high jump, and long jump. He was a striker and broke school records in soccer. He even played cricket and rugby, but I could not get him to do his homework with the same dedication. When I decided to relocate to the US, I enticed him with the possibility of playing basketball professionally. That did not work out, but he got full tuition to jump for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. When he announced that he wanted to pursue his Masters in Sports Management, I nearly fell off my chair. I assumed he would be content with his undergrad, but on the contrary, he is motivated by his grandma and me, both with doctoral degrees.
With another opportunity of fully sponsored tuition, he coached younger athletes. He set up a charity to help kids gain athletic scholarships by offering free coaching – a way to pay it forward. He won accolades, and just before completing his program announced that he had an all-expense-paid interview with his target organization, USA Track, and Field, headquartered in Indiana. I didn’t know where Indiana was. I had hoped he would return home to New York – weren’t Maryland and Massachusetts far enough? I couldn’t fathom daily life without my rock within easy reach. I hoped he would not get the job, but of course, he did. So I let him go, shipped his car, went with him, found him an exclusive apartment right in the city, met with his colleagues and workmates, prayed over him, and returned home.
When he told me his version of the events that led him to prison, I did not believe him. After all, I hear these stories all the time on television. I immediately thought there was something he was not telling me. Was this the same son who had never gotten into trouble, not even during his teenage years? Parents, teachers, strangers would write to me about his upstanding character and charm – the social butterfly who turned any room into a bubbling event, the kid with a natural ability to charm everyone – young and old. What changed in the year since he had relocated? It would take video evidence for me to believe my son – a video that was accidentally recorded.
He was at St. Patrick’s Day event; there was a disturbance around 6:30 PM, which did not involve him or his friends, and police were called for reinforcement. He was walking home with his friends when he saw an officer shoving a group of people, which included a young woman whom he did not know. He yelled out, offering to help the officer remove the woman. She wasn’t being arrested. He was immediately tased, his 6ft, 5inch, 230lb frame hit the concrete pavement. As he writhed in pain, he was tased twice more, bleeding from the taser gun. He fell, unconscious, and you could hear people in the video wailing, thinking he was dead. One of the officers lodged a knee on his neck and accused him of resisting arrest as they handcuffed his immobilized body. He did not utter a word or complaint, was fully compliant, did not even demand his phone, which had now fallen. They yanked him up like a rag doll and took him into custody. They accused him of jumping on a police officer in a bear hug and charged him with the battery of a law enforcement officer. The officer stated that he would have used his gun but couldn’t reach it! He was also charged with resisting arrest. He faced criminal felony charges for something he DIDN’T do. My son, the upstanding, much loved, no record citizen. He was strip-searched, called him ”Nigeria” as they mocked his name, given a jumpsuit, shackled to other prisoners, and sent to prison! He would eventually walk home, feeling alone, without his support system. It took us months and thousands of dollars to fight the charges. I ran out of money, and people encouraged him to take a plea deal to save costs. We were told that over 99% of cases in Indianapolis involving poor black men end up in plea deals. They simply cannot afford to fight the system.
My son lived to tell his story, but he, his sister, and I are no longer okay. The trauma is excruciating. Last fall, my daughter had a breakdown. She was so traumatized by the possibility of losing her role model and big brother that she was unable to cope with her studies or sit her finals. She considered withdrawing from her engineering program at Johns Hopkins University. Even though the criminal charges were dropped due to the overwhelming evidence vindicating him, we have not been the same. My son remains in his apartment, using social media as his outlet, his human interaction outside work limited to flag football, the gym, Kroger supermarket, and work-related activities. Some say he should come home, but is that the solution?
Please help us get closure. While we are thankful he did not suffer a worse fate, we feel our experience is important. Help give our story voice and sign the petition to rid the police force of corrupt cops. His ordeal should count for something. We do not need to wait for our sons to die. Shioma does not need to feel guilty for living to tell his story. Attorneys only want cases involving death or severe injury. The criminal justice system is broken. Please help us with the campaign. The goal is 500,000 signatures. Help buy me some more sleep at night.”
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