Holding a bouquet of blue balloons, Anita Neal let go of her tight grip on the strings and raised her head, waving her arms gently to the sky as she watched them float, shimmering in the waning hours of daylight, past the Brooklyn Central Booking building – where her daughter died exactly one year ago – beyond a rooftop garden, and, eventually, out of sight.
As protesters chanted such phrases as “we want justice for Kyam Livingston” and “no justice, no peace” while waving signs outside the central booking site at 120 Schermerhorn Street on the one-year anniversary of Kyam’s death Monday evening, Anita stood, silently, and watched the summer sky long after the balloons, released in memory of her daughter, faded from view. Holding the red roses on which she had placed a photo of Kyam, and which she gave to everyone who came out for yesterday’s rally, Anita wiped away tears, turned to the crowd, and walked up to the microphone.
“They took my heart,” she said of the death of her 37-year-old daughter. “They took a big piece of my heart.”
Alongside Anita at the Justice for Kyam Committee’s protest on Monday were several dozen people hailing from all walks of life – including Kyam’s family and friends, community advocates, and church representatives – who trekked from all corners of the city to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, and the NYPD to investigate Kyam’s death, publicize the findings, and punish anyone found of wrongdoing.
“She did not deserve to be ignored for seven hours in a central Brooklyn holding cell,” said Djibril Toure, a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement who has attended the rallies for Kyam that have been held on the 21st of each month following her death. “She deserves to have an investigation into her death… There’s no way an investigation shouldn’t have happened within a year.”
A woman who had been in a holding cell with Kyam, the Stratford Road woman who was arrested after allegedly violating an order of protection taken out by her grandmother, told the Daily News that the 37-year-old mother and her fellow inmates pleaded with police officers for hours to address Kyam’s health concerns, including severe stomach pains.
“They said, ‘Shut up before we lose your paper work and you won’t be seen by a judge,’” Aleah Holland, a registered nurse who had been arrested on an assault charge, told the Daily News.
In October, the city medical examiner ruled that Kyam’s death occurred from a “natural” cause due to an alcoholic seizure.
But the family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court, alleging Kyam’s life ended because police ignored her repeated requests for medical attention. And Anita, as well as other family members, said an autopsy showed no alcohol in her daughter’s body at the time of death.
“My daughter died here,” Anita said Monday, pointing her fingers at the 10-story mass of granite and limestone that constitutes the building housing central booking. “She was in here for a minor incident. She didn’t even get to see the judge.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For many of those attending Monday’s event, it was a time to remember a woman who was described by a member of the Justice For Kyam Committee as, “a woman, mother, daughter, sister, worker, decent person” who police “didn’t respect and let die in a holding cell.”
“My mother, she was a very outgoing, very outspoken person,” Kyam’s 22-year-old son, Alexander Livingston, said following the rally. “When she walked into a room, she lit it up.”
And, when it came to cooking, Alexander said his mother, who worked as a security guard, was a savant in the kitchen.
“She could make anything – oxtail, lasagna, anything,” he said. “I didn’t get to learn that from her. I really want to learn to cook like she did.”
Dayann McDonough, Anita’s goddaughter who grew up with Kyam, remembered her friend as “a very generous person.”
“One of my fondest memories of Kyam was, when we were growing up and my mom didn’t have money for birthday cake, Kyam would always share cake with me,” Dayann said, wiping away tears.
“And she loved her son so much, who’s without her now,” Dayann continued.
Many of those at the rally are calling on other community advocates to join them as they raise their voices over Kyam’s death.
“We have to take action – we have to start filling the streets with anger, with resolution, with power,” Jim White, of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, said. “…This kind of racist murder cannot stand.”
Dayann too emphasized this, lashing out at police for “listening to a woman beg for seven hours and doing nothing.”
“You let her die – why?” Dayann said. “Because you couldn’t be bothered? Was it too much paperwork? Or did her life just not matter?”