A Lethal Traffic Stop in Georgia

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Images of Black death have become inescapable, yet footage of Momodou Lamin Sisay’s death remains elusive. Sisay was killed in Georgia on May 29 in an altercation with officers from the Snellville and Gwinnett County police departments.

Here is the story, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation: A Snellville police officer attempted to stop Sisay’s car on Skyland Drive for a vehicle tag violation. Sisay reportedly did not stop. A chase ensued. Officers eventually forced his car off Temple Johnson Road. They approached the car, giving “verbal commands.” Sisay did not comply. As they prepared to enter the car, he pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the officers. They fired and took cover behind their cars. Sisay started his engine. A SWAT team was called in. He shot at the officers. An unnamed officer shot back. Sisay was found dead. “A handgun was located at the scene,” says the police report.

Sisay was Gambian, like me. A common refrain of the Black Lives Matter movement is to say, out loud, the names of police victims. Saying Sisay’s name, I thought of its similarity to mine. Variations of the Prophet Muhammad’s name are common in Gambia; mine is Muhammad Lamin, and my mother’s maiden name is Ceesay. I imagine that most Black people, upon hearing news of state-sanctioned Black death, think, “That could’ve been me.” For me, those words have never rung truer. In saying Sisay’s name, I’m almost saying mine. But if I had come across the news from the local outlets that first covered it, one of which referred to the killing as an “officer-related shooting,” this utterance would have been impossible.

A sometimes painful aspect of diaspora existence is that grief, too often, is disrupted by distance. Being from a country unfamiliar to most neighbors but with citizens around the world means getting the news by word of mouth. Sisay was identified publicly in a Facebook post by Gambian human rights activist Banka Manneh, who is based in Atlanta. He was notified of the killing by Habib Mbye, a family friend of Sisay’s. In a May 30 Facebook post, Manneh said the Gambian community “is still holding out hope that some passerby recorded the proceedings just like that of George Floyd in Minnesota.” No such person has come forward.

From Manneh, I learned that Sisay was raised in Georgia. He was better known as Boy Sisay, according to a eulogy on Facebook posted by Aji Amber Barry. He was Muslim and “known to always be at the mosque.” He took care of his siblings after his mother died. Lare Sisay, Momodou Sisay’s father, described him as someone who “abhors violence.” The family has opened its own investigation into his death. “We’re not going to let it go,” Lare Sisay told The Fatu Network, a Gambian news outlet.



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