Two years before the May 25 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, about 150 people gathered in Scoville Park in remembrance of another black man who lost his life following an encounter with law enforcement.
Now the family and friends of Tyler Lumar, a former OPRF student who died while in custody, are renewing their effort to raise awareness about the events that led to his death and what they say is the culpability of Chicago police and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.
As of Monday, June 15, more than 27,000 people had signed a Change.org petition [https://www.change.org/p/black-lives-matter-justice-for-tyler-lumar] titled “Justice for Tyler Lumar” that recounts the allegations made in the lawsuit.
Lumar was 22 years old when he was taken into custody by Chicago police in 2016 over an arrest warrant out of Lee County for a missed $25 payment on an unpaid parking ticket. That late payment, which was delinquent by a total of five days, had already been resolved prior to the arrest. Although the outdated warrant should have been dropped, Lumar was taken to Cook County Jail and illegally denied the ability to bond out for $50, according to the lawsuit.
He was later accused of being in possession of crack cocaine, which his lawyer and family say video surveillance shows was dropped near Lumar while he was in custody. Lumar allegedly attempted to take his own life unsuccessfully in his jail cell and then spent more than a year and a half on life support before dying in April 2018 as a result of his injuries.
The image on the petition website features a montage of Lumar and his daughter Savannah, who was five years old when her father died. Now seven, Savannah Lumar is seen in the center photo holding a sign that states: “Stop killing our dads.”
Savannah’s mother, Casey Tencate, 26, admitted that she still hasn’t revealed to Savannah much of what happened to her father. The words on the sign Savannah holds in the photo were added in digitally, Tencate said. “She does know what is going on in the world,” Tencate said in a telephone interview, noting that her daughter realizes that George Floyd was killed by police. “But she doesn’t really know what happened with her dad.”
Tencate said she is happy to see that theprotests appear to be bringing about positive change, but the last few weeks have been emotionally difficult. “It’s been overwhelming at times constantly talking about it and constantly seeing it,” she said.
Lumar’s mother, Lisa Alcorn, shared a similar sentiment, noting that she now suffers from severe bouts of anxiety. “I want to say, ‘We’re OK, but we’re not OK; it feels like it was yesterday,” she said, adding that the news of Floyd’s death and subsequent protests “opens up our wounds more.”
While the news of Floyd’s death and widespread demonstrations continue to dominate the national conversation, the U.S. Supreme Court is one venue where the debate over police brutality will not continue — at least for the time being. On June 15, the court announced that it will not reexamine the doctrine of qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity “protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,'” according to a 2018 ruling by Judge Virginia M. Kendall in the Lumar case.
The defense argued that police held Lumar because the warrant was from another county, and a general administrative order required that he be held. But the judge agreed with the plaintiff in 2018, stating that Lumar was not detained on the administrative order but rather a falsified arrest report that said bond information was “not available.”
“Here, it has been clearly established that it was unconstitutional for the officers to continue to detain Lumar without probable cause and based on a falsified arrest report,” Kendall wrote.
While qualified immunity might be a moot point — at least temporarily — in the Lumar case and in the Supreme Court, it could remain under consideration at the legislative level.
A bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Justin Amash (I-Michigan) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) has also brought greater awareness to the issue.
“Qualified immunity protects police and other officials from consequences even for horrific rights abuses,” Amash said in a recent press statement. “It prevents accountability for the ‘bad apples’ and undermines the public’s faith in law enforcement. It’s at odds with the text of the law and the intent of Congress, and it ultimately leaves Americans’ rights without appropriate protection.”