Miriam Carey was 34 years old with a 13-month-old daughter in the back of her car when she was gunned down by police on Capitol Hill. Her daughter was unharmed but there were bullet holes lodged in the plastic of her car seat.
Shortly before, Miriam made a wrong turn amid the road closures surrounding the White House. She turned into what we now know is a restricted White House checkpoint. However, this is an area that one is allowed to drive into and then turn around. She attempted to make a U-turn. An off-duty plain clothes police office (aka: a random man with no uniform or visible credentials) put a bike rack directly in front of the moving car in an attempt to block her ability to exit the checkpoint and return to the road. Mid U-turn, Miriam struck the bike rack, with him behind it and attempted to continue out of the checkpoint and back to the main road. At this point, the off-duty officer radioed to surrounding police “cop down”. (Whether or not an off-duty officer can be called a “cop”, given the implications of such a statement, is a question for another time.)
Secret Service then chased her as she drove out from the restricted area into regular civilian streets. Eventually, police cars—some marked, some unmarked—attempted to box her in and police surrounded her car with guns drawn shouting orders. Again, she tried to evade the situation and escaped briefly, only to eventually be again surrounded by police, this time firing at her car. A total of 26 shots were fired. When police entered the stopped vehicle, they found an unarmed Miriam unconscious, having been shot several times. At this point, they also discovered her baby in the back seat. Identities of the police involved have never been released. Miriam Carey was black.
When you research the events surrounding Miriam Carey’s 2013 death, press focuses on alleged post-partum psychosis. However, her sister, Valarie Carey, a retired police sergeant and small business owner, states that Miriam did not suffer from mental illness and had simply made a minor traffic violation, was disproportionately chased, was scared and ran.
The Wikipedia article of the event states the following aftermath of Miriam’s killing:
The FBI obtained a search warrant and conducted a search of the woman’s home in Stamford, Connecticut to try to determine the possible motivation of her actions. As a precaution, a bomb squad robot was used to enter inside Carey’s house at 114 Woodside Green.
That’s a lot of investigation for a traffic violation and the subsequent attempt to evade arrest. It goes on to say:
…the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that no charges would be filed against the federal officers and agents, stating, “After a thorough review of all the evidence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers who were involved in the shooting used excessive force or possessed the requisite criminal intent at the time of the events.
And later in the article:
The Secret Service has since refused to release the video of Carey’s death.
This is not a new story. What began as a traffic mix-up ended in a fatality through a series of police-initiated escalating responses. Valarie points out, and Wikipedia acknowledges, that there are at least 22 cited “instances in which intruders have successfully breached the White House itself without resulting in a fatality,” all of whom were white. Among these instances is the story of Jessica Forte who, in 2018, breached and struck White House security in a van. When police approached the vehicle, they found Jessica Forte wielding a gun and shouting threats and obscenities, yet they managed to take her into custody unharmed.
In response to public opinion that the police response to Miriam Carey’s traffic violation was disproportionate and escalating, CNN stated the following:
Many independent law enforcement and criminal law analysts have told CNN that under the fast-moving circumstances in a high-security zone, the officers were right to fire shots since they did not know if the driver was violent or a potential terrorist.
The subtext of this statement, especially when comparing it to the circumstances surrounding Jessica Forte’s arrest, the arrest of any number of other White House security breaches, and the storming of the capitol that occurred on January 6th in which angry white mobs planned an insurrection on public forums only to climb walls, break windows and damage property inside the capitol while searching for specific members of congress to single out and murder, all while armed, only to be respectfully escorted out by police, is that a black person with an unknown agenda is more dangerous than a white person with explicitly pronounced intent to harm.
The woman who was killed in the insurrection is now being depicted in the news as an honorable person and an army veteran, whereas Miriam, to this day, is depicted as a suspected terrorist with mental disorders. An investigation into the legitimacy of the insurrectionist’s killing is underway. Miriam and her family have been waiting and fighting for justice since 2013. We must right this double standard before more black mothers and fathers are killed at the hands of the state with no recourse. But this story is bigger than just individual deaths.
The stories of double standards in policing between black and white threats, in addition to what is considered to be a threat at all, determined by whether or not the participants are black or white, are commonplace. While these are clearly social justice issues, the ramifications of these instances reach far beyond theoretical notions of equity and into every part of life in America.
I grew up with girls like Val and Miriam. I know this story. I know Miriam’s story because it’s my own. I am a black woman who grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood yet earned a degree from a predominantly white institution and now work in a predominantly white corporate world. I am the mother of four black and Hispanic children who are preparing to enter white colleges and white professions and a world ruled by whiteness and the dictates of whiteness. Professionally, my job is to place black and Hispanic talent in predominantly white corporate professions. The narrative surrounding Miriam’s killing forms the assumptions off which our characters and actions are judged. We are seen as criminals. We are seen as being mentally ill. We are seen as being dangerous. We are seen as being terrorists. We are seen as being threats.
We are none of these things. We are men and women who are going to work, raising children and making the occasional wrong turn in a world that is systematically trained to view our innocent actions and occasional mistakes in a negative and harmful light by a system which is more concerned with protecting itself than with protecting the people it alleges to serve. In order for ordinary innocent black people to receive the same benefit of the doubt that is extended to white people even when they are armed and threatening, this narrative must be addressed, uprooted and rewritten. This means public justice for people like Miriam Carey. This means public investigations into the events leading up to these deaths and this means continued rigor in the prevention of future abuses of power. It means the public admission of a skewed narrative and the public righting of that narrative so that society learns, by example, that quiet injustice in the form of biased narratives is unacceptable. It’s hard to hire black talent that is deemed by media and by society to be criminal. This is a systemic and systematic problem that requires a systemic and systematic solution.
Join us: www.justice4miriamcarey.com
cover photo credit: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post
In 1965, The Watt’s Riots erupted in Los Angeles after the violent police escalation over a black traffic stop. The Vietnam War was in full swing and Marvin was receiving honest accounts of the war from his brother who was serving at the time. In 1969, in People’s Park in Berkeley, California, civilians and students protesting the police’s continued attempt to silence anti-war demonstrations turned violent as protestors were chased down streets and fired at with buckshot and tear gas as they were running away from police.
A gentleman by the name of Marvin Gaye posed the question: “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” This was his response: