My brother, Marvin Booker, was 56 years old when he was killed. Marvin was a peaceful street preacher who also struggled with mental illness and drug use. None of this changed the fact that he was a kind and loving man. He was no risk to anyone. What haunts me when I think about his life, about all the years he worked to do good in this world, are the handful of minutes it took to end it.
A little over ten years ago, the Denver police arrested Marvin on a low-level drug charge. While being booked into the jail, my brother paused before following an officer’s order to leave the waiting area and tried to first retrieve shoes he’d left in a waiting area before being booked. In response to this small act of perceived disobedience, several officers pinned my 135-pound brother face-down to the ground with a choke-hold. Now, the Denver Sheriff’s manual itself warns that “brain damage or death could occur if the technique is applied for more than one minute.”
Yet, even as he lay motionless on the floor, the officers continued to hold my brother down, tasing him and choking him for 2 minutes and 55 seconds. They waited another 4 minutes and 48 seconds before a nurse arrived to try and resuscitate him. It took 7 minutes and 43 seconds to kill my brother in that jail.
It took 7 minutes and 46 seconds to kill George Floyd. Just three seconds separate the time it took to kill these two Black men.
Video: Reverend Spencer Lamar Booker & Mrs. Gail G. Booker address Marshall’s passing and Senate Bill 21-062.
When my brother was killed, I was angry and tired and desperate for justice. And now we are not alone. People are angry. People are tired. And people are no longer willing to silently struggle under the yoke of our injustice system. For too long, Black Americans have been over-policed and over-incarcerated.
Too many Black bodies bear the marks of police brutality, too many communities have been torn apart by our broken system of mass incarceration and too many families have had to count the minutes it took to kill their loved ones. Enough is enough.
I am writing to you to ask you to join us in this fight towards justice. Right now, lawmakers are being asked to consider Senate Bill 21-062. There are many reasons I support this bill, but the one that compels me to write to you is that it would have likely saved my brother’s life.
If SB21-062 had been passed in 2010, my brother would have been handed a summons instead of being arrested. He would have never been dragged into that jail. It makes me wonder: How might he have spent those 7 minutes and 48 seconds that killed him? Maybe he would have walked another block of the Denver streets he loved. Maybe he would have delivered another sermon to someone in need. Maybe he would have given me a call. But I am not asking you to give us back that time. SB21-062 was not the law and my brother died in that cell.
But there are more Marvins out there. There are more brothers, fathers, preachers, leaders, and human beings just trying to stay alive. And many of them, like all of us, have made mistakes. Some need help as they face their struggles, whether it’s drugs or poverty, but none deserve to rot in a jail cell waiting for their day in court or to die there. And yet, as long as our response is to arrest them, to incarcerate them, to brutalize them, we will do nothing but continue to perpetuate pain and rob precious minutes from families like ours.
Some police have talked about wanting to help victims and champion public safety. But are we too not victims? Is public safety not ensuring people aren’t jailed – or even killed – for their addiction or mental health struggles? If we want to help victims, defend public safety and ever achieve true justice, we must build a better system where – yes, some people who really are dangerous are held in jail – but where people charged with low offenses, or people charged with higher-level offenses but who are not a safety risk to others, are allowed to remain free pretrial until and unless they are convicted. It is time to end this cruel era where who’s in jail is more about wealth than anything else. Jails should be for people who are dangerous, and just being accused of a crime should mean something different than being convicted. In simple terms, if they haven’t done any harm, don’t be alarmed.
I ask you to please support SB21-062, for me, for my family, for Marvin, and for all the many people in your district who ask for a little grace, a little mercy, and just the possibility of a second chance.
On Behalf of the Booker’s Family
/s/ Reverend Spencer Lamar Booker & Mrs. Gail G. Booker