“After my son Clinton was killed, I remember digging into my pain asking God to help me understand why this happened,” Collette Flanagan told The Root in an exclusive interview. “He just didn’t deserve to die.”
In 2013, Flanagan’s 25-year-old son, Clinton Allen, was shot and killed by a Dallas police officer in an area that the 53-year-old refers to as the “Dallas hunting ground.”
According to Flanagan, Clinton was on his way to visit a young woman whose boyfriend had come home unexpectedly. As Clinton arrived, the young woman wanted to avoid a conflict between the two men and called the police to help prevent a potential situation.
“Clinton left and almost made it to his car when Officer Clark Staller buried seven bullets into him,” Flanagan said. “My son wasn’t armed and his hands were in the air. They didn’t even try to get him medical attention.”
Devastated by her loss, the former IBM executive fought hard to hold the police accountable for Clinton’s “execution.” Not surprisingly, in 2013 a grand jury refused to indict Staller.
“We were successful in keeping Staller off the street for a year, but he didn’t lose any pay or vacation or retirement,” Flanagan said. “He went home to his 3-month son, while mine is gone forever.”
In the wake of her son’s death, Flanagan began researching police violence in Dallas and soon realized that she wasn’t alone. There were dozens of other mothers who had lost their sons and daughters—and many of them lacked community support (especially from local black megachurches) or guidance on how to advocate for their loved ones.
Enter Mothers Against Police Brutality, or MAPB.
“I turned all that pain into fuel to find this organization because we needed this badly, not only here in Dallas but around the country,” Flanagan said.
Since 2013, Flanagan’s national organization has mobilized numerous protests and marches, provided families with much-needed legal advice and been a force in pushing for policy changes such as mandatory drug testing for police involved in shootings.
Although this assistance and progress has brought grieving moms a little bit of comfort, these women are also in dire need of emotional support and small acts of kindness, Flanagan pointed out.
To commemorate Mother’s Day, the two organizations asked black men and boys to pen heartfelt letters to MAPB’s hundred-plus membership. Each of the letters was placed in a care package that the mothers will receive by the end of the month.
“People underestimate how important letters are for mothers like us. Not only are letters intimate special gifts, they have added meaning, given that our children won’t ever have the chance to write us ever again,” Flanagan said.
She also pointed out how these personal messages of love, hope and compassion can even help save a life.
“This type of grief is incredibly overwhelming, and so many of us are struggling with depression and other mental-health issues,” Flanagan said. “You never know the impact your kind words could have on someone who is in trouble.”
Dorothy Jackson can definitely speak to Flanagan’s unflinching pain.
The 66-year-old, who also lives in Dallas and is a member of MAPB, lost her 43-year-old son, Bertrand Davis, two years ago.
Jackson told The Root that her “Bert” suffered from mental illness but he seemed to be thriving—he was on his meds and had started his own catering business.
“He had issues in the past, but he was on the right track. He had just gotten a trailer for his BBQ business, and he was waiting on his permit so he could set up shop in a nearby dog park. He really loved dogs,” Jackson said.
However, one August night in 2015 at a party in Southeast Dallas, Davis had an unexpected episode, and a friend called the Dallas authorities after a fire and alleged fight broke out in the house.
After they arrived, the police tased Davis numerous times, but he broke free, ran to his car and was subsequently shot. (Dallas police claim that Davis was wielding a box cutter and allegedly threatened them with what turned out to be a pellet gun.)
Davis’ wife—a registered nurse who also witnessed the shooting—wasn’t even allowed to ride in the ambulance with her husband because authorities had “questions for her.”
Davis died minutes later—alone.
“Even if he was a criminal, why did they have to shoot to kill? Why didn’t anyone on the scene know how to deal with people with mental illness?” Jackson asked.
Jackson recalled that she sat in the police station for hours waiting for the sergeant to tell her where her son was and if he was alive. Davis’ death was later confirmed when she Googled “police shooting” and “Dallas” on her phone and saw a picture of her son’s car covered in police tape. To this day, Jackson claimed, the Dallas Police Department has yet to send her family any condolences or even show them bodycam footage of that fatal night.
Jackson, who recently survived, as best she could, her second Mother’s Day without her son, acknowledged that a note from a stranger could make a huge difference in her life right now: “Just hearing that someone outside of my immediate family is sorry for my loss would be so wonderful. It’s more than I’ve gotten from the Dallas police.”
Rashid Shabazz, vice president of communications for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, hopes that the “Dear Mama” letters will not only provide love and light to women like Jackson but also continue to teach black men why it’s necessary to support black women.
“It’s important for our men to advocate for black women, not just for mothers [of slain children], but also for the women and girls who have been killed by the police,” he said. “We have to stand up for them in the same ways that they do for us, and continue to center black women and girls in the conversation about [state] violence.”
Shabazz added: “We’re also excited for this opportunity to engage men and provide them with ways to help and lead the fight with our sisters against white supremacy.”
Flanagan hopes that black men understand that regardless of what the world tells them, they are important and needed.
“We call this project ‘extended sons’ for a reason,” she said. “That’s what you all are to us. Your participation and your support of black women are priceless. So please, write those letters and lay the seeds of activism that you can pass on to your own sons.”
Interested in participating in the “Dear Mama” series? Please send your letter here.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning filmmaker and Chicago-based freelance writer who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Essence, The Advocate, Hello Beautiful, Ebony, Al-Jazeera, The Body and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter.